cancer



When a terrible disease ravages someone you love, the mourning process begins long before they finally pass on. Kübler-Ross (1969), in her study on death and dying, described five stages of grief including denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. But Kübler-Ross was initially focusing on those who were dying, and not so much on those who were dealing with personal loss of any great significance, which she later came to recognize.

These stages are not linear, either, and can occur in any order, if at all. Women tend to experience all five stages more than men. They can be cyclical, too, with two or more occurring in an almost extreme emotional roller coaster. For both the dying and the loved one, getting to the point of acceptance does not always happen at the same time. The dying often reaches the stage of acceptance before their loved ones. But if and when both reach the point of acceptance, where communication and reflection can be experienced, a more dignified death can be found.

I’d add a couple of additional stages, or at least notable elements, to the stages of pre (and post) grieving. That includes fighting to maintain control of the details in their lives. The opposite is the disruptive feeling of vulnerability when control is lost which can lead to related stages of despair and anger.

Another related stage involves trying to make order in one’s life. Especially when the world around you seems to be in chaos, small efforts to create order can take on an outsized importance. Cleaning out cupboards, putting away old records, sorting through old photos, are just a few example of how the person facing loss may attempt to build a sense of order in a life that seems otherwise out of control.

Recently, I heard this statement made by someone who is facing the inevitable loss of his longtime spouse who is in the late stages of Alzheimer’s disease. I’ve paraphrased it per my own cloudy memory.

I feel like I’m in a carnival outhouse sitting out in a field, and the circus is packing up to leave without me.

While he didn’t elaborate, he was trying to express his feelings regarding the situation he found himself in now. I’ve been thinking about this and cannot help but connect it to my own experiences and ruminations.

First and foremost, there is the overwhelming feeling of vulnerability, of literally having your pants down in a crisis, or a formidable change that is going on around you. You’re stuck. It is hard to move forward without first finishing the primary business at hand. Panic sets in and it is hard to make decisions. Yet you’re also worried about being left behind, and by the act of moving to a new location – mentally, emotionally, and physically – and the unknown that comes with that. But even more so, it is a fear of being left behind by the ominously fast progression of a disease that robs you of the one you love, again mentally, emotionally, and physically.

The carnival/circus represents fetes of apparent magic, gravity-defying acts, seemingly impossible, often nonsensical, frightening in their dangerous distortions of human entertainment, and the funhouse mirrors that twist and distort our vision of reality.

The world around you no longer makes sense and you feel vulnerable, scared, afraid of being left behind, fearing for your loved one and a future you cannot envision without them. It literally scares the shit out of you… And yet you know you have to keep moving to survive. Because that’s your role here.

Of course, the circus could also represent your loved one, the person who was the highlight of your life, with which you shared the literal stage of life, it’s bright lights, music, the comedy and drama of a life fully shared. Either way, it all seems so unfair.

Anger rushes forward. Anger at what fate has thrown you, your loved one, the cruelty of the disease. There is no preferred or better way to die of a disease. Cancer kills the body slowly while eating away at the person. Alzheimers eats away the person while leaving the body to deteriorate at a slower rate, until the parts of the brain that operate the body begin to lose their synaptic connections.

Either way, these diseases are cruel – to the loved one who suffers them, and to the lover who must endure the pain of watching, of frustrating efforts to try and overcome the diseases’ manifestations, the cruel teases of normalcy and strength that suddenly appear and then, as a wisp in the winds, they disappear to the mists that hid the light in their eyes.

Whether you want to or not, you are, and will be… the survivor. The one who will carry the stories forward until they can be shared fully with a new generation. You will be needed by others who will benefit from your wisdom, humor, insights borne of long experience. The fates have determined that your place is here…in this world…where you are still needed.

The journey along side the dying of a loved one is dark and painful. But it also has its moments to be cherished. The fleeting glimpse of a smile, a flash of humor, the small gestures that show you are still connected to this loved one. You have been chosen for the honor of being beside them on this journey to the end of this life. You, however, will stay behind, their partner only until the gates of passage open to the other side. Until death do you part.

It sucks. It hurts so badly, the pain is physical, palpable. Breath… breath… You are still alive. And they will always be with you, and waiting on the other side to greet you when your turn comes, naturally, when the fates determine it to be so. In the meantime, treasure each moment with your loved one as a gift. Soon enough, there will be only memories that you will hold onto tightly, then share with others when the right time comes.

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Sweet Pea, our nearly 15 yr old Borzoi, in a glamour shot from her healthier days.

January 8, 2016, 11:11 pm

Sweet Pea died today. Steve and I took her to the veterinarian this morning after making a difficult choice. She had not been well for awhile, but had begun declining more rapidly in the last month or so. She’d grown more frail, wasn’t eating as much, or sometimes not at all, and could barely make it up and down the stairs. Lenny, in the meantime, had begun to show his own distress by whining and barking to get Sweet Pea, or one of us out of bed to help her go outside, to eat, or whatever was going through his little puppy sized brain. He was driving us all crazy by doing this at all hours of the night. We were growing impatient, exhausted, and frustrated. We knew what it was about. But neither one of us wanted to make the decision. Sweet Pea would tell us, we would say to each other. She would let us know when the time was right.

But sometimes we don’t want to pay attention, to make the difficult choices. Sometimes, we think, that if we just ignore it, life will go on without having to face the painful moment of truth. I know that’s bullshit. I have seen it up close and personal. But it doesn’t make me immune from the desire to shield myself from the reality of her – or anyone else’s – suffering. It hurts too much to acknowledge it.

Last night, after two nights of sleeping down on the coach through the night, Sweet Pea decided she wanted to join us…one more time. Before this, the trek up the stairs would be wobbly but possible. It was the trek down the stairs that scared us all. Her legs barely held her up, and her unsteadiness made it a nerve racking and time consuming experience to get her back down the stairs. So we were grateful that she had not attempted it for the previous two nights. But not tonight.

The spirits had been talking all evening… I’d been seeing 11’s for most of the day. Michael sent me a photo that showed 5:11 in the LED clock on the TV set top sitting on Keith’s cherry cabinet he’d made for them in Needham. And again I’d look up to see 11 elsewhere…clocks, emails, texts. Something was up.

So when Michael texted me again at 9:11 pm, I thought it was simply an acknowledgement of the pattern I’d shared with him. But not long after, I heard shuffling and then a bang, then whimpers in the hallway. I jumped out of bed to see what happened. Sweet Pea had fallen at the top of the stairs, collapsing in front of the bathroom and had her nail caught under the doorframe molding. With some difficulty, I freed her from the doorframe and coaxed her up so she could make it to the bedroom. I went back down and fetched her pillow bed that I’d brought down before to convince her to stay down there. She looked forlornly in my direction, her cataract cloudy eyes trying to see me in the fog. This might be it, I thought. Maybe she’ll die in her sleep like Gemorra did so many years ago.

But the night passed and Lenny’s constant whimpering reminded us of the grim decision we would have to make once daylight came. She could barely stand, let alone make it down the stairs. At first I tried, but gave up, so Steven took on the challenge, pleading with her to try, telling her he’d catch her if she started to fall. She made it and went outside to pee, retaining the last bit of dignity the old girl had left. She even ate a little when she came back in, constantly escorted by the ever whimpering Lenny. But then she made her way to the couch, using her last bit of energy to climb up there. Her breathing was labored and I could see the time had come. I couldn’t make her suffer another day.

She passed peacefully in the vets office. They put out a white blanket for her to lie upon, though she missed it when she reclined after her anesthesia. At one point I thought the anesthesia had done the job, without the final injection. But she was breathing still, though so shallow it was hardly visible. Then the shot in her leg, and within moments she was gone… Gone to the other side, relieved of her pain, greeted happily by a healthy and goofy big Stanley. Given a warm and social greeting by her old master, Keith. I picture them enjoying some romping and fetching games followed by a good round of coach-potatoing together like they did all the time before.

Steven and I gave our last tearful goodbyes…he was really fond of her, she reminded him of several other big white dogs he’d had as furry companions in his life before me. And, with a trim of her tail feathers and an imprint from her paw as a memorial from the vet, we left to toast Sweet Pea over bacon and eggs and…toast.

Although my neighbor referred to her as "Satan's Spawn," Sweet Pea did have her playful side.

Although my neighbor referred to her as “Satan’s Spawn,” Sweet Pea did have her playful side.

Later, after letting my grown daughters know about her passing, I posted a photo and the news on Facebook. I felt somewhat awkward about the outpouring of sympathy. Yes, Sweet Pea was my longest living Borzoi, having made it nearly 15 years. Yes, she had helped me through some difficult life transitions. Yes, she had been “my” dog and furry companion. And yes…even better, she had befriended Steven…a sure sign that he was the good guy I thought him to be. I even imagined Keith sending her back from the cemetery that hot summer’s weekend over 2 years ago when she got loose for 30 hours and nearly died in the 100 degree heat so that she could help me to decide on the merits of Steven’s character. She did not share her inner sweetness with just anyone, and was especially particular when it came to men. There have been only two men I knew her to show deep affection for – Keith and Steven. I guess she knew who were the right men to be trusted in my life.

Stanley (left), Keith (laying down across the couch), and Sweet Pea (on Keith's chest)....aka the Keith sandwich on Russian rye.

Stanley (left), Keith (laying down across the couch), and Sweet Pea (on Keith’s chest)….aka the Keith sandwich on Russian rye.

In the photo above: It’s hard to believe when I look at this picture..my heart both sinks in sadness, yet breaths hope, too. Everyone is gone from this earth but hopefully reunited on the other side. Stanley on Mother’s Day 2011, Keith on 9/1/2012, and Sweet Pea on 1/8/2016. Even the couch – brought back from Fiji – is gone, having been turned over to the dogs, and later dismantled, the leather salvaged for me to use in making books. Maybe I should make some more…

September 8, 2014

So what does grief look like after 2 years? It is a full moon tonight as I contemplate this question.

Everyone grieves differently. For me, grief is a different creature than it was last year, or even the year before. For me, it lurks deep in the crevasses of my emotions, boiling in the depths far below the view of the outsider, or even – at times – myself. Yet at the right moment it bubbles up like a volcano, racking my body with sobs, an emotional sink hole in an otherwise softly curvy road in life’s journey.

A week ago yesterday marked the second anniversary of Keith’s passing. The actual day of the anniversary, Sunday, September 1, 2014, passed with little fanfare, a relief that the day was finally here and soon to be gone. I took part in the “Ice Bucket Challenge” where I wrote two checks – one for Keith’s scholarship, and one for the American Cancer Society – and then prepared a Tequila Sunrise to toast in Keith’s memory, followed by dumping the bowl of ice over my head, all recorded for sharing on FaceBook, as is the custom for this challenge. It was a cathartic ending to a difficult, yet sometimes fulfilling, week.
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Keeping a Steady Head Despite the Anticipation
For me, it was the anticipation of the anniversary date, brought on by the pattern of activities that occur annually at this time of year, that made it more difficult to maintain an even emotional keel during the week before. And some changes in my work made this passage even more pronounced.

This summer I was offered a new opportunity at the college, to serve as Faculty Director for the Center for Teaching and Learning where I could test out my newly minted doctoral studies in community college leadership. The opportunity marked the end of my reign as Program Coordinator in Graphic Design, a program I created upon my arrival from Fiji back in 1997 and had guided to success ever since. To step down from that position, while still maintaining my teaching position (and teaching just one class) was a major shift both mentally and emotionally. It meant turning over the reigns to one who I had helped mentor to take over. But I never thought I would see such an opportunity so soon. I was truly excited by this new endeavor. But it also meant stepping further away from a life and identity I had built with Keith.

That is part of the crux of this. It is all about Time, with a capital “T.” Time, in this case, is like a long winding road that sometimes loops around on itself. My life with Keith now lies further back on this road. And each new step I take building a new life takes me further and further away from him and the journey we shared together. As sad as that sounds, the reality is that he is not here, physically at least, traveling on this road with me now, and I’ve come to terms with that. There are others who are on this journey with me, my children who still connect me to Keith. Many dear friends and extended family members. And then there is one especially sweet and gentle hillbilly of an artist who has joined me on this road I travel now.

It is all about Time, with a capital “T.” Time, in this case, is like a long winding road that sometimes loops around on itself.

But each year, the summer winds down, and the last milestones that passed with Keith in his last weeks and days in that Summer of 2012 march across my calendar again – his birthday, our anniversary, and then that last week…

On the college calendar, all faculty come back from summer for Welcome Back week. The last two weeks before classes start are among the busiest for everyone on campus, but especially in the office of my new job.

Yet so marked are these late summer dates in my mind, that I can’t help but count them down. Friday before Welcome Back week… when the hospice nurse urged me to try and go to my doctoral class meeting in Grand Rapids after we had spent the morning talking about installing a hospital bed in our bedroom so that Keith would no longer have to climb the stairs. Keith had expressed his concern to the hospice nurse about being too much of a burden on me while I attempted to go back to teaching in Fall. For me, it was an admission of my failure, that the end was near for Keith, that I could not save him. It broke me emotionally and I cried all the way to Grand Rapids and back, even screaming at the top of my lungs in the cocoon of my car.

Then there was the following Wednesday afternoon when I attempted to try and pretend I was doing something normal by going to the Faculty picnic. I lasted only an hour, leaving after the VP told me that she didn’t expect me to be there, to go home to be with Keith. She was right. I couldn’t face all the happy people excitedly telling stories of their summer adventures. This year’s Welcome Back festivities brought all those memories back to me again, especially that picnic. But this time, I mostly enjoyed seeing all the smiling faces.

It was a good day. A mother-daughter bonding day, a day when we didn’t need to spend lots of money to enjoy each other’s company.

Then there was the memory of the days that followed – Thursday being told to prepare for Keith’s imminent passage, Friday spending the day between the bedside vigil in the dark room where Keith lay, and spare moments with my brother and sister-in-law who had come to help rescue me and the girls from well-intentioned visitors. And then there was that final day… sending my youngest grown daughter upstairs to wake her sister to give Keith his meds. Feeling the urge to follow her moments later… walking into the room in time to see her as she said “I think I just saw Dad take his last breath.”

My younger daughter and I got together on Sunday, the day before the 2nd anniversary. It was a good day. A mother-daughter bonding day, a day when we didn’t need to spend lots of money to enjoy each other’s company. We enjoyed looking in antique shops, eating a cheap but delicious BeBimBop at Cosmos, and wandering Ann Arbor chatting away about everything and anything.

I know that when Keith died, she was worried about losing her mother, too, as I made my own way through grief. Her older sister had her new husband to lean on. My younger daughter’s concern seemed to grew when I met my new friend Steven. It has been a long winding road, but a certain balance has begun to evolve. I am seeing the way forward to build a new life with a new partner and new job, balanced with the life that existed before and which provides the foundation for my future, and the evolving dreams.

Sometimes the Winding Road Bends Around on Itself

But it’s not without tears. That winding road of Time, when the events flip back over upon themselves, repeating their position on the calendar, mock my grief which had sunk deep out of sight into those crevasses. Then, occasionally, it explodes as it did this year in a sobbing release. It occurred this time on that Wednesday before the semester started, the same day as that faculty picnic. I had tried to remain stoic and put on a happy face throughout the week, and most of the time I actually felt happy! The new job was starting and I was immersing myself in learning as much as I could about its operations and mission.

But I could feel the cracks occasionally fissuring away at my strength. Steven was trying to help. He had arranged to get my car serviced a week before at his son’s shop in Gladwin. And now he was even getting new tires put on after we discovered the cause of a slow leak in one of the tires, a metal screw that probably came from the roofers at Perry Road.

In discussing the cost of the tires, I had pulled out the papers from nearly two years ago in October 2012 when I’d brought the car to a company Keith had used before to get two new tires. Back then, the kids had been concerned saying my rear tires were far too worn to be safe and urged me to go. It was just 5 weeks after Keith’s passing and I went to the tire place thinking it should be a straightforward affair. It was… as long as I didn’t pay attention to the charges. Looking at the receipt now nearly two years later, Steve and I discovered I had been charged for two overlapping warranties amounting to nearly $140 in extra charges.

On this night, after getting the exact same tires put on for nearly $230 less, Steven was angry at the original tire company that he believed had taken advantage of me. Extending the conversation, he was equally impatient that the roofers had not taken better care to clean up the nails and debris from their installation at Perry Road. Yet another item seemed to irritate him that wasn’t done more carefully at Perry Road, too, and he expressed a frustration that some people may have taken advantage of my more vulnerable position.

…Keith had been my protector, running interference and taking care of those things to his satisfaction while allowing me to focus on other things that helped make our lives run smoothly…

But the reality was that back then… during those six months after Keith’s passing, I did not have the strength to push for details. I just wanted things done. And if it caused too much of a drain on my energy to try and resolve an issue, I backed off. I had learned that life was, indeed, too short to waste one’s energy on arguing. And the reality was also that, as a woman, I was indeed taken advantage of by certain vendors, especially the tire company. It’s a common theme experienced by many women.

Even more than that, though, was the fact that Keith had been my protector, running interference and taking care of those things to his satisfaction while allowing me to focus on other things that helped make our lives run smoothly, things that I was more expert in. He would take care of the car and tires. He would have made sure that the roof, or the drain tile, or the clean-up was done satisfactorily. Steven, though well intentioned in expressing his dissatisfaction over these issues, feeling they were an affront to my wellbeing, had succeeded in reminding me how vulnerable I had been without Keith.

It reminded me how much Keith had protected and cared for me in these situations… and, yes, how Keith had protected me from at least one unscrupulous “friend.” Steve’s frustration reminded me how far away from Keith that time’s winding road had carried me, only to flip around and hit a moment of painful memories… And then the dam finally broke on the wall of tears that I’d held back for the previous week. A gentle embrace held me while I sobbed until I had no more tears left. And then life went onward and the grief receded to the deep crevasses again.

Life is good. Life is blessed. Next month I should be defending my dissertation, another milestone on the winding road of this ethereal journey of dreams.

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Above: My brother is met by a White Heron who hung around on the beach near Sarasota, Florida during our visit in May 2014. I have often thought that the Heron, whether White or Blue, was Keith’s animus.

[Apologies, dear reader, for the length of this post. It captures many reflections and milestones from the past few months…]

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Keith walks along the coral shores of Tongatapu, Tonga, an island nation to the east of Fiji, 1993.
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The inauspicious anniversary has now come and gone and with its passage, I feel both a deep sadness and a lifting of a veil. No longer do I look back a year and remember what I was doing, how Keith was suffering on that very same day the year before, or the traumas of his treatment. Now when I look back a year ago, I see how much the earth had quaked, my road had shifted beneath me and my children, his family and close friends. No longer would there be any chance of his voice on the other end of the phone, a person to ask advice or crack a joke. No longer would we be able to imagine a time when he could have recovered.

At this time a year ago we began a long dark road of healing, like going through a dark tunnel where you would not know whether your footing would hold you, where you move forward both numb and carried by the faith of good will in those around you. Once that anniversary passed, September 1st, 2013, the first year anniversary of Keith’s passage to another plane of existence – some call it Heaven, some call it an afterlife, another dimension, another life… but just not one here, on this earth, with us, within reach – I no longer felt compelled to think about what was going on a year ago that day…

For the weeks and months before that anniversary, I was doing just that… thinking back to the almost precise day a year before. What were we going through? What sad decision was being made that day? How were we coping with it all? How was Keith even capable of surviving as long as he did? I reread every word of the diaries I wrote throughout that summer, right up through the day he died. Somehow, though, I’d never written down how those final moments passed. In reflection, a year later I write these words:

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Diary, Sunday, 9/1/13, 3:15 pm

It’s September 1st. Can’t believe it’s September 1st. “I think I just saw Dad take his last breath,” she said a year ago. Stassia had looked up at me in the evening dimness of the darkened bedroom crammed with the hospital bed against the kingsized bed Keith and I had shared. Sarah lay groggily waking from her nap not quite taking it all in. I walked up beside the hospital bed as Stassia kneeled from the bigger bed that hugged against it. I felt his neck, then leaned down over his mouth and nose to see if I could hear him breath. Standing straighter I looked at his chest that no longer moved. Then lifting my eyes to his that were gently closed, his mouth still slightly open from his previously labored breathing, I looked back to Stassia and now Sarah. “Yes, I think you did, sweetheart.” We stayed like that for a few minutes, not quite knowing the next move. Then, finally, we each laid our hands on Keith and said a quiet prayer for him, wishing him safe travels on his journey home… that place beyond our reach but where he would be free from the pain of his disease, the humiliations of sickness and crude attempts to stop its crushing march towards death. He was free of it all now. We were sad, but relieved as well.

I remember all of this now. Even while I cannot believe that a full year, a full 365 days have passed between now and that moment when he left us behind. I remember sending the kids downstairs to tell their Uncle Gino and Aunt Danette who were busy preparing dinner in the kitchen. I had left them just a few moments before, a little while after sending Stassia upstairs, telling her to wake Sarah, that it was time for her to give dad his meds. I remember feeling a tap on the shoulder even while no one was there next to me, and a sudden urge to follow Stassia up the stairs, entering the room only a minute or two after her. I remember the room was mostly dark except for a couple of nightlights and a yellow cast from the small antique stained glass lamp on the vanity.

I remember that after sending the girls downstairs, I picked up my iPad which had been playing music softly while winding through a series of selected family photos I’d put together for Keith to see… in case he had ever opened his eyes those last few days. The music I’d selected was meant to relax him… and us, yet now whenever I hear those songs, I begin to choke up, so many were about the love and caring and commitment to each other that a couple would share. I remember then pulling up the “poem” I’d written the week before, what would eventually become part of his eulogy that Sarah would read at his funeral. In the dimly lit room, I read it aloud to Keith and made some minor adjustments, as if he were directing me from beyond to smooth out a passage here or there. When finished, I laid my hand on his arm and my head on his chest and just lay there breathing… for both of us. It was over. His suffering was over. What lay ahead for me, I knew not what at the time.

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This past summer was a time of many travels, with Keith’s spirit following along nearly every step of the way. As we prepared to travel, a long-awaited package arrived in the mail containing the cremation diamonds Keith had asked for. It was a strange reminder of a stranger request Keith had made and that I had reluctantly fulfilled. Our travels, however, were also preceded by a rather unsettling dream. I wrote about it and then my sudden epiphany of what it meant:

Dream, 7/1/13
First one with Keith in a long while. It seems.

Keith was on the other end of the call and the conversation was as normal and casual as if he were still alive.

Me: hi
Keith: how are you?
M: Good
K: Good to hear. Now, Jess said she couldn’t translate for you. She’s gonna be busy. 13 Hurdles were coming.
M: Yea. I’d heard about that.

As I answered holding the phone to my ear, I stepped from outside to inside of a house, leaning low to pass under a closed window, trim painted white. Maybe it was a Dutch door but with the bottom open.

My alarm went off and the dream ended along with the conversation. I could still hear Keith’s voice in my head. It was good to hear from him again.

Postscript: Today is the 11-month anniversary of Keith’s passing. After the dream, I did a quick online search for “13 Hurdles, grief”. This is what I found:
http://mysonzack.wordpress.com/2011/09/09/hurdle-13-going-home-again/

Appropriate in many ways, even more so because on Wednesday, July 3rd, I’m taking my new friend back to my childhood stomping grounds.

And on July 27, what would have been Keith’s 55th birthday, me and the kids fly back to Fiji to spread some of Keith’s ashes and rejuvenate. Jess is our friend’s wife who own the Beachouse in Fiji where we’ll be staying.

PSS: After falling back to sleep, I re-awakened feeling I knew what the 13th hurdles were. I was supposed to take Keith’s ashes to New York, too. It is about “his” going home, not just me. I think he wanted me to bring him back to Ashdown Road, maybe the pond there where I sat with Sarah in my lap and took a photo of the very large Tri-color Heron that walked by me. But it could also be that I bring him to a lake in the Adirondacks for his friends to help spread his ashes…. hmmmmm…. which way to go….

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Returning home to Upstate New York

Over the July 4th holiday, I went back to upstate New York to visit family and old friends and introduce a new one. We met up with my brother and his family for lunch and then Keith’s best friend Michael was there to take me and my friend on a tour of our childhood memories around the Saratoga region. The first stop, though, was Ashdown Road where I knocked on the door of the first home Keith had ever built for our family. And, after securing permission, Michael and I shared in the act of spreading some of Keith’s ashes on the edges of that same pond Keith had dug, and where the Great Tri-color Heron had visited me when Sarah was born.

The next day, as the light of the sinking sun glittered across the quieting lake waters, I handed my iPhone to my friend to record the event. Larry stopped the boat at a special place on Sagandaga Lake where he said Keith had caught a large carp. I then asked Larry and Jean to join me on the boat’s stern and we each took turns dropping the last of the ashes I’d brought into the clear cool waters of this beautiful Adirondack lake. As we dropped the last of them into the water, we each said a prayer for Keith’s peace in the afterlife, the existence you’ve taken on in that other universe that we know you’re watching us from. The ashes swirled into the shape of a large fish and then just as quickly dispersed.

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The sun’s rays pour through storm clouds onto the receding tides of Fiji at the Beachouse. August 2013.

Back to the South Pacific
A few weeks later, on what would have been Keith’s 55th birthday, my daughters, son-in-law and I began the long journey to Fiji. Unfortunately, a weather delay out of Detroit had a domino effect and we missed our flight in LA that would take us to Fiji. With every hotel within shuttle distance of LAX filled due to the other stranded travelers, we ended up camping in the international terminal for 24 hours until the next flight to Fiji would leave at 11:30 pm Sunday. We finally arrived, due to the international dateline, before dawn on Tuesday, 7/30, Sarah and Mark’s 2nd wedding anniversary. It would take us three days to recover from our travels but there are worse things than being stuck on the beautiful beaches of Fiji, surrounded by friendly faces.

When on my second voyage out to sea to snorkel about the reef at high tide, I found myself in rapture like a small child laughing at the playfulness of joyous discovery at each colorful fish, sea anemone, or seashell I picked up. It went on like this for what seemed like an hour, even once Sarah and Mark joined us, him on the kayak and Sarah in the water snorkeling along with Stassia and myself.

At one point I found myself alone, looking around there was a panoramic view of dozens of different types of colorful fish, from moorish idols to Picasso trigger, from orange and black clownfish to black or blue damsel fish, lemonpeel angelfish skirted in and about the other unnamed colorful players to our dance. Coral heads filled the sandy area with waves of green seaweed, to colorful Christmas tree coral worms as the waves slowly caressed us to the gentle beat of the sea.

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I was transported back to a similar moment in Fiji during a dive with Keith. I remember holding onto the top of a coral bommie, schools of colorful fish moved in an harmonic dance all around me, in sync with the waves that pulsed through and around our bodies. As I remembered this absolutely magical time back then, my chest began to tighten. Keith, are you here? I remember now asking myself this. You could swim this type of natural beauty any time you want now, Keith. But is that why we are here? To remember and remind ourselves of that magical time? Is this how we are to honor you here in Fiji?

I had to fight back to tears that began to choke me. And just as I could no longer hold them back, I heard sounds of joyful outcry through the water and above the surface. Sarah and Stassia were happily playing in their discovery of some new fish, a group of clowns in an anemone, a big puffer fish under some staghorn coral, a colorful nudibranch that was hiding in the shadows… You taught them that, this joy of discovery of the undersea world, to respect it, yet relish it with a whole heart.

I swallowed back the tears that threatened to overtake me. Turning towards the laughing mermaids, our daughters now nearly 24 and 27 years old, I joined them in taking joy of their new discoveries.

One of our last days in Fiji, we made our way into the highlands of Viti Levu in order to kayak on the Navua River with a brief stop at one of the many beautiful waterfalls. Our little band of just four travelers and our Fijian guide were mostly alone as we made our way downstream. The occasional motorized longboat passed us heading upriver, sometimes trying to splash us (if it was filled with locals), sometimes throwing a big wake (if filled with tourists), but always with big shouts of “Bula!” Otherwise our trip was beautifully and blissfully quiet as we passed through the deep jungle canyon, marked by the occasional group of cattle clinging to a flatter area to graze. The rush of the occasional rapids would make our hearts beat faster. But then as we passed into calmer waters, the chatter of bird calls could be heard from deep in the jungle, one I mistakenly took for a dog barking until I’d heard it a few more times down river. Possibly an owl, instead.

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One of the many smaller streams feeding into the upper Navua River.

I knew this was a place for contemplation. So it didn’t surprise me, only pleased me more, to see the occasional heron fly by or sit on a rocky perch on the river’s edge. Keith’s animus, I thought, watching us make our way, being sure we did so safely. “Hi Keith” I would think to myself every time I saw one of these beautiful birds. They only seemed to ever showed themselves one at a time. So it was easy to believe that the white heron, then the white-faced blue heron, then the dark blue heron were all Keith… watching over his family and guiding us safely through our voyage.

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Earlier in our Fiji trip, Andrew, Keith’s best buddy in Fiji, made arrangements for four salusalu to be made. These are Fijian-style flower leis. Traditionally, they would be dropped into the water behind a sailing ship when newly launched. The same practice would be used to send Keith on his journey by putting more of his ashes into the channel when the outgoing tide would take them out to sea at sunset. Sarah, Stassia, Mark and I each poured some of the ashes into the sea followed by a flower salusalu, the sun setting quickly on the horizon as the waves broke loudly on either side of the channel. Andrew held the boat steady and then I asked him to do the final honors for the evening which he did. With all my children present during this time as the boat rocked us on the horizon of the South Pacific seas, the flowers drifting out to sea with his ashes in tow, it seemed so much more meaningful than any other time before or since. The next place we took Keith’s ashes was to Sulua Place in Pacific Harbour, where Keith had built our South Pacific home. Once again securing permission after finding out Sarah’s former teacher was house-sitting OUR old house, we went to the edge of the sea wall and, with a few blossoms of bougainvillea, we dropped the rest of the ashes I’d brought to Fiji into the ocean-fed lake.

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Very early on August 11th, as the plane descended into Detroit, it occurs to me that the act of visiting Fiji again, especially with the kids, and reconnecting with old friends serves a greater purpose. It served to remind me, to reassure me, that my life with Keith – if it were a dream – is one from a shared dreamscape, shared and made real by all those who knew him and remembered his stories. For it makes life – my past life with Keith, and any future we create anew – more than just the dream of songs, those songs that I played on the iPad a year ago, the ones that still bring tears to my eyes now.

Just before dropping through the clouds to the airport below, we saw the last of the streaks from the Perseus meteor shower outside our window, a reminder that all things are connected here between heaven and on earth.

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The last of Summer’s days

Over the next two weeks, with the marking of what would have been our 31st wedding anniversary, and then the looming milestones of when hospice would bring his hospital bed, I faced more emotional swings, especially as news reports celebrated the Blue Moon for the summer season. Keith died on the weekend of a Blue Moon, defined last year as the second full moon in a month, but more accurately was the fourth full moon of a three-month season as was the case this year. As the evening wore on and I settled in for bed, I felt my mood change. Sleep eluded me and my back throbbed angrily from my earlier weeding rampage in both the front and back gardens. I lay there in the dark, thinking back to a year before and what we were facing in Keith’s final days, still not knowing how long he had left.

Eventually, I just couldn’t stand it and decided to read through my diary entries from last summer. I relived each moment described in those pages yet with the fog of time cushioning the sting of pain. By around 2:30 am, my anxieties began to overwhelm me. I wanted to SEE the blue moon. I needed to see it. But the ambient light in my bedroom was too much. I began unplugging powerstrips that had extra lights. I tried to bend my body over the glass table by the window so I could see the moon that hung very tightly to the roofline of the house at that angle. Last year my bed sat under that window and I could just look straight up from my pillow as the light of the moon pressed sharp shadows of tree branches across the bed. But this year my bed sits on another wall and the window hangs over a glass table with books, photos, incense and a candle I’ve burned occasionally for Keith. Eventually, I climbed across the bed and craned my neck. I needed to try and feel the light of the blue moon, even as I cried myself to sleep.

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Dream, 8/30/13

I was on a boat. On this boat, the drawer of my dresser was overfilled and there was a pair of black velvet flats with bows that were getting squished. Music played on the stereo, like my iHome that holds the iPod here.

I was getting dressed but would get interrupted by different people. In one case someone who was dressed in a black chefs jacket says to me that I’d better be nicer to someone, that I shouldn’t be so hard on him. I replied that it was guidance and tough love, that he needed it in order to achieve what he wanted.

I remember others coming in but can’t recall the conversations. Only that I was in the process of dressing.

As I tried to leave the sailboat, the exit was actually a long curved wooden slide, polished smooth and beautifully crafted, like something Keith would have made. I don’t think I went down the slide.

I recall then seeing someone, a man who had crazy curly hair. He smiled gently at me. I turned back towards the dressing room to adjust the music. I found that the remote control was missing. All I could do was change the tune by selecting something different on the iPod. But to turn it off, I would need to do something more drastic like pull the plug. I sat the iPod down after selecting a different song, tried to shut the dresser drawer, but the black velvet shoes were getting crushed.

My analysis:
The curly-haired man was my friend, the person I needed to be nicer to. The slide was a passage towards the spiritual world… to exit would have meant death for me, an exit from this life. The black velvet shoes are the shreds of mourning and grief that swell the corners of my life, beautiful but sad… They need to be made to fit into the package of my past… not left to overwhelm my current life or my future. The music is the music of life. We cannot turn it off without dying (i.e. pulling the plug). We can only change the song.

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And finally, the anniversary

It was September 1st, 2013… The song that Keith and Sarah danced to at his daughter’s wedding to Mark had just come on the iPod playing on my iHome as I wrote in my diary on this first anniversary. My friend was out in the workshop after having mowed the lawn, trimmed the edges, raked the front yard of its leaves. Sarah, Mark and Stassia would later be coming over in anticipation of dinner, and an evening by the bonfire, toasting their dad.

That evening we would burn the masi bow that we’d tied to the front yard tree last year, the day after Keith left us. And we would throw the last of the copal that I’d brought from Mexico, a gift from Tlakaelel back in 2006. My friend was there too, but quietly… out of respect for this family event. It was still so surreal to me… a word I shared with Keith’s sister Barb just the other day, on her birthday – the same as my friend’s. Keith’s father had died in early June, just 9 months after Keith. She shared news of the closing on his house in Phoenix, the estate sale while we were still in Fiji, how quickly it had all happened… yet all in the same year as Keith’s death.

It felt surreal that I sat here writing in my diary 365 days later, a full year of days, and my friend now sits beside me, ready with a warm and unconditional hug. I’ve needed a lot of those lately. It’s been a surreal experience, this last year or more, beginning with … what… Stassia’s graduation and Keith’s still not getting over his “flu” after too many weeks and months? my flying back from Russia after news of “metastatic liver disease”? the nightmare weeks and months that followed, so few that we never felt we had a chance to even begin to catch up to the disease that had raced through his thin ravaged body.

It’s surreal that life went marching on afterwards… surreal that Keith is not here… YOU are not here, Keith. At least not on this side of the spiritual realm. I wish you well, Keith. I know I can feel your spiritual presence… stronger some times than others. I need to keep going on, to empty the drawers of grief, to change the tune on my iPod, and be more open and kinder to the gentle friend who has stepped forward to help me through it all. Only time will tell. Time… heals eventually.

This morning I reread the card that sits by the candle I light occasionally for Keith. “Regard all dharmas as but dreams.”

Life is but a dream…

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Perry Road workshop after a spontaneous sleigh ride down the hill, a week ago. The sun was quickly melting a new fallen snow.
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It was fortuitous that the workmen would come today (Friday, 3/1/13), the six-month anniversary of Keith’s passing. They moved up their starting day to remodel the master bathroom at home. The room had been a running joke in our lives, but also a sore spot Keith would ignore in favor of taking on other projects, commitments, or just going for a ride on the motorcycles. I admit that I enabled this. I much preferred to ignore it myself and go have fun, then to fight over it= and cause unrest in the house.

Yet there it was, in all it’s ugliness, the focus of which was the freezing shower with the cracked tiles, the shower door falling off its hinges, the moldy ceilings, etc. When I had packed up many of Keith’s things, I came across a drawing and notes he had made for remodeling this room. My own drawings were not too far off. The difference was the custom cabinet which I could not supply. And so other solutions would be needed. In the end, though, I was forced to make a last minute change, bumping the wall out into the bedroom about a foot so that the cabinet I ordered wouldn’t block the doorway. This was the part Keith would have customized, creating a slant to ease the entry while still allowing for the larger cabinet. But mine was 20 inches deep, and the wall next to the door was only 16. I could not put it tucked into the corner as planned. And I couldn’t move it over due to the toilet space needed. So the wall would be moved.

I listened as the guys smashed and cut away old fixtures and floors, while I worked on a paper in the cozy little cocoon I made of my bedroom behind plastic sheeting hanging from the ceiling.

It was exciting to start this project. Nearly 16 years after moving to Michigan, and about 15 years after moving into this house, that bathroom was always the target of my disgust. Cracked tiles, continuously moldy grout, shivering cold, a tiny vanity, all added up to a room that I just wanted to smash. It became a running joke (and point of terror) that when the kids misbehaved, they’d be threatened with scrubbing the shower tile in mom and dad’s bathroom.

A need to break something…
So when the guys showed up this morning and started the demolition, I asked them to give me a chance to smash something, just one thing to get out my frustration. I took aim at the soap dish, broken for the last three years where the mold had seeped into the crack and degraded the already cracked and ugly ceramic dish now hanging jagged out of the wall.

SMACK!! and crash, I swung the hammer at it with my eyes closed tight, the guys behind me cackling at the sound of the pieces hitting the tile floor of the shower. I was anything but satisfied. I was angry. Angry that it took 15 years and the death of my husband to get to this point. Angry that I was doing this on the 6 month anniversary of his passing. Angry at Keith for abandoning me. Angry at myself for feeling guilty about wanting the embrace of another man in Keith’s absence. Just plain angry at the world.

I handed the hammer back to Joe who shook his head still laughing at my overly dramatic swing, and so I managed to summon a smile in return. My last big assignment for a doctoral course was calling me. So I slipped through the plastic sheathing that hung between the work area and the rest of my bedroom, climbed back onto my bed where my iPad and reading sat waiting for my attention.

Counting down to the other side
Later that evening, after the workmen left, i let out a sob. Pent up emotion that needed a release. It lasted only a moment and then I went back to my work. But as the hour drew near, I had to stop and write in my diary… a countdown of sorts:

The countdown weighs heavily on my heart, 55 minutes, 54, 53, 52, 51… Keith died at 7:55 pm on September 1st, exactly 6 months earlier. Just a few days ago, visible in the pre-storm night sky, the nearly full moon loomed overhead, stars sparkling and taunting me in a bittersweet reminder of the date to come. But tonight, this last hour has been painful.

The other part of the remodel project ws to replace the vanity in the kids bathroom. Keith had made it and painted it with analine dyes a scene of seaweed and deep blue waters. Unfortunately, he hadn’t accounted for the doorframe trim and the kids were never able to pull the drawers out as far as intended on one side. I feared that any new owner of this house would simply pull the cabinet out and toss it. So I ordered an inexpensive white cabinet the same size and had the guys swap it out.

From my diary…

It’s 7:45 pm. 10 minutes before that moment when we knew Keith made his last breath… 6 months ago. Stassia is busy texting me about how much money she’s losing from her free trip to Florida. I try and restrain my impatience and simply remind her that it will all work out, I had planned to help her out anyway, knowing there would be some impact on her missing work. She has already been stressed due to a cutback of hours so I try not to feed her anxieties. I have enough of my own.

Four minutes now. I’m beginning to feel a little better. Time is passing quickly and I focus on the passage of this sad milestone which will put me on the other side of the hump between the first half of a year after he died, and the second half when looking forward should become more common than looking back.

I moved a photo I have of Keith that sat on my side of the bed. It was the one where he has that silly smirk on his face. But more often recently, that smirk has looked more like disapproval, and even hurt. I couldn’t face it any longer, at least not every moment when I sat on my side of the bed we used to share. I moved it over to “his” former side, the side where I keep my powder puff from crabtree and evelyn, and my button jar, the side where I moved my flickering lamp when I swapped it for his working lamp.

It’s 7:55 pm now. My heart sinks a bit. I have already shed some tears in exasperation. But the moment has passed. It’s time to move forward. I love you Keith. I will always love you. But I cannot live with the pain of your loss. I must live with the hope for a new future. Otherwise, my grief will consume me, a feeling I have occasionally faced in a depressive moment, ready to give up on going forward.

Moving forward…
Yes, the moment has passed, an inauspicious milestone. Six months to the minute since Keith died. I breathed deeply and tried to go back to my work, knowing I am not alone on this road. And that there are angels – or ghosts – who watch over me, too. My dreams, and those of a good friend, make that clear.

So now looking forward, I thank goodness for many things. For the friendships I have, my children who remind me why I cannot sink into despair. And the touchstone of a good counselor. And for a fulfilling career surrounded by interesting, supportive people…

And oddly enough, more recently, I am also thankful that, even if it does not grow into anything further (or I refuse to let it), there’s a little guy up north who is willing to talk to me, listens to my tears, and even then still calls me cutie, and offers me a virtual hug. We have never met, but I have grown more fond of him. Maybe it’s because at this point it is still fantasy. But, at the moment, I can live with that.
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And the demolition begins, at home on Jerome Lane.

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I signed up for Social Dancing and took my first class on Wednesday. The kids encouraged me, too, saying it would get me out of the house. And besides, I needed the exercise. Yoga has been part of my routine every other day. But it’s nice to mix it up. So I was both excited and a little nervous about this new “mini” adventure.

It went very well. I found myself really enjoying myself. So it surprised me a little when the silver-haired instructor (probably around 70 yrs old) came up to me as I was getting my coat and asked if I was okay, was I crying? Oh, no, I’m just fine. But the kids say I wear my emotions on my face too clearly these days. So maybe Beverly, the masters ballroom dance champion, saw what I felt inside but hadn’t acknowledged yet.

My dance partner, a nice gentleman slim and well over 6 feet tall, almost had to lean to reach my shoulder of my 5’2″ frame. And rather than look up and crane my neck, I just stared ahead at the button on his shirt. Then, quite often, I would just close my eyes and count as I concentrated on where to put my feet.

1…2…3   1…2…3  1…2…3  1…2…3

In the space of an hour, we learned the Fox Trot, Waltz, Rumba and a few steps of East Coast Swing. It went by quickly and I found the steps easy to learn. I had an urge to push the dance further with the other moves I knew went with them. Feeling the beat, I channeled a little of the great Tamara Doriva, my grandmother, bell of Spanish Harlem, who made her fame as a folksinger/dancer, a femme fatale on the stages of NYC in the 1930s and 40s.

As I closed my eyes, I could easily forget where I was. Instead, I was transported back to a time not that long ago, when my dance partner was my dear Keith as we shared our utter joy at our daughter’s wedding.

“How did we get here?”

We asked each other in joyful laughter. But now I ask myself:

“How did I get here? alone?”

It has been less than 19 months since that joyful dance, when we saw the future as newlyweds ourselves, with children grown and still young and energetic enough to enjoy the next chapter with youthful-minded (if not youthful physically) abandon.

After my dance class, once I got home from picking up a few items, the kids were all there for a visit and I got to make dinner for more than just me. Laughter and bawdy humor filled the house, jokes flying here and there like old times. It felt good.

Later that night, I sat on the bed and looked at Keith’s photo, touched my lips with my finger and pressed it on his, turned the light off and cried myself to sleep.

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Therapeutic Arts and Conversation

I’ve done three book arts workshops in three weekends and now won’t have another until March when I go back and revisit letterpress printing. Each trip to Ann Arbor for the workshop is usually followed by a visit with Stassia, wandering around the used bookstores, maybe a little peek in the Ten Thousand Villages shop, of course after looking around the gallery where Stassia works.

While this activity has been very therapeutic, I’ve also found myself suffering waves of emotion that were entirely unanticipated, especially after I’ve had long periods of feeling fairly good. It became clear to me that it was time to revisit a grief counselor and so I arranged to set up semi-regular visits to a therapist who could guide me through this next phase. As strong as I may think I am sometimes, my very smart grown children have said “it’s okay” to ask for help. I think that for me, it is comforting just to have this touchstone meeting to look forward to, where I can let some of the emotional backlog slip over the dam.

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Exploring the Territory

In early January, I thought I’d turn over a new leaf. Mostly I think it was loneliness and lack of adult conversation. But I decided to check out one of the online dating sites for “older” adults. My profile clearly states that I am not interested in marriage or longterm commitments at this time. And I boldly express how I do not wish to be “saved” and hold very liberal views. I describe myself as an artist, educator, and writer, and a recent widow. So in spite of my frankness, it is amusing to see what the results are from this experiment. Stassia has been a great source of advice and between us we often share anecdotes over who has messaged us recently. A very odd mother-daughter bonding experience has resulted, even if no other of my online conversations have led to anything beyond an occasional entertaining message.

So while my girls insist that what I really need is a gay guy friend (anyone want to volunteer?), I am approaching this as a sociological experiment with an almost analytical observational technique. For one thing, this approach removes the potential vulnerabilities that might occur if I were to take it more personally. So far, my observations are as follows:

• dating sites are full of scammers attempting to draw the person off the website (cause for “blocking” in my experiment);

• a disproportionate number of men in my age range advertise themselves as being extremely athletic and toned (not always matching the posted photo), and want a partner who is the same. (cause for “deletions” in the list of “viewed profile”)

• a large number of very “conservative” men seem drawn to liberal women. (also cause for “deletions” and/or “block user” in my experiment)

In spite of all that, I have had some nice message exchanges with some educated intelligent people, including the occasional teacher. And, as my daughter has indicated, it’s nice to have that validation that I may still be attractive to others, in spite of my “curviness”.

But, in the end, I still go to bed curled up with Keith’s photo in front of me and ask myself two questions:

“Keith, where are you now?”

followed by

“And how did I get here?”

So I guess it will take a lot more time to work out the landscape of widowhood and all that it means to travel this road.

The sign said:

Please don’t forget I love you.

It stopped me cold. I was allowing myself a short distraction while eating a late lunch, scrolling through one of my favorite pop-up shops online. In this section were graphic wall signs of sayings about love. But this sign wasn’t among those offered for sale. It was in the preview, catching my attention as I flipped through the main page. I flipped the page back up and read it again.

Please don’t forget I love you.

No, I said out loud, alone in the room. No, I won’t forget. I love you, too. But why don’t you visit me in my dreams? At least that way the days won’t seem quite so lonely.

I’ve kept busy the week since returning from my trip to Grand Rapids. There’s no doubt that I could work 24/7 and still not get it all done. My flu mostly subsided, has left a residual cough. And I admit a moment of self-indulgent pity when I awoke a few mornings soaked in sweat, reminded of how badly Keith’s sweats first hinted at the cancer to come. Well, I thought, if I have what he had, then at least we’ll be together. Then I remind myself that it really is just the flu and shame myself for indulging in this little mental melodrama.

Focus has been in short supply. It feels like I’m missing a limb, like I’m out of balance. So I find it easy to fall into distraction. Part of the issue may be technology. It’s too easy to access. So text messages come often, emails, too. And a little online shopping, though that has been reduced considerably. Retail therapy has proven to backfire when the bill comes.

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My new sleigh at Perry Road. The hill in the backyard is much steeper than this photo implies and this sled goes VERY fast! I made the run three times, each time cackling aloud like a crazy woman. But it was a blast, a cathartic release, and good exercise to boot. Anyone watching me doing this alone, however, would have thought me mad. So when I tired a bit and started taking it a bit close to some small trees, I decided it was time to give it a rest. But now that the snow has returned again after the crazy thunderstorms earlier this week, I’ll have to give it another run!
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Making Paper Memories

I made paper last Saturday at a workshop in Ann Arbor. It was a therapeutic experience to finally work with my hands again, being creative in a more tactile way. I brought rose petals from several arrangements we’d received last summer while Keith was ill. The last batch, however, was from his funeral, the only two live flower arrangements there. In Keith’s obituary, we indicated “in lieu of cut flowers, donations could be made to…” And then we indicated either the American Cancer Society or the Keith E. Fulmer Memorial Art & Design Scholarship Fund at Mott Community College.

I admit feeling an initial disappointment when first arriving at the funeral home to see Keith with only a few arrangements nearby. But we soon filled the spaces around him with photos and his own woodturned art.

Over the summer, Keith became distressed by the cut flowers that arrived occasionally, sometimes meant to honor our anniversary, or simply to cheer him, or me. But instead, as they withered away and died, they were a foreshadowing reminder of what was to come for Keith. And so when it came time for his funeral, we chose to request the charitable donations. But as I first felt pangs of disappointment for not seeing an abundance of flowers in the room, I realized that maybe that’s because the flowers were meant to support the living. Still, as I saw them wither and die over the weeks that followed, I was reminded again of Keith’s comments.

So I had saved the rosebuds from each time flowers would arrive, and let them dry by the kitchen window. I couldn’t bring myself to throw them away, so clearly representative they were of a time with Keith. I brought some of these with me to weave into the paper pulp, and by the end of the day, I almost couldn’t bring myself to stop. A little pulp remained with the rose petals still flecked throughout. I asked the instructor if I could keep it and she, of course, said yes.

As I was getting ready to leave, she asked about how Keith had died. She said she’d never realized that anger was a natural part of grieving and that she’d felt it intensely after her father had died. I told her I, too, had felt anger throughout the grieving process. She was surprised by the intensity of her own emotions. For me, I’m not always sure who I’m angry at…. the fates for bringing Keith’s illness, or at Keith for leaving me, or at myself for indulging in this self-pity. But while anger is indeed part of grief, so is the act of letting go.

So as I told the story of Keith and the illness that took him away from me, I realized it was one the first time in a long time that I could share this story without choking up, and without tears pressing against my eyes. Instead I was able to calmly tell the story, and even smile a little bit at the memories and how my life with Keith was a good one. And for that I am grateful.

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New Dream – Keith visits.
1/29/13, 8:30 am

The conversation was so real that it seemed incomprehensible that it was just a dream. Keith and I were standing near a doorway, resembling the sliding door in our home that leads to the backyard. He picked up a clipboard from the dining room table with a notepad attached to it that he asked me to hand him. He seemed to be preparing to go outside to the backyard to address some task. Although it is winter, the grass was very green, though skies were overcast and damp from rain. This parallels the actual weather which featured unusual winter thunderstorms this morning.

We talked. I knew he was just visiting from the other side. He seemed to be wearing white baggy shorts which I thought incongruous with the dark wool baggy sweater resembling one he always wore in this life. Our conversation was warm and casual, like we were catching up a little. I recall talking about how much I missed him, and mentioning some things I wanted to share. And – while I cannot now recall his exact words – I remember clearly hearing the sound of his voice, as strong as in waking life.

We moved closer to each other so it seemed like our bodies were touching in the start of an embrace. But this move led to him then standing nearer to the door opening. His free arm was outstretched towards me reaching and holding my arm. But rather than pull us closer, our hands began to slip away from each other.

“Come back”, I said. “Come back again in my dreams so we can chat.”

And as our fingers barely touched each other now, I began to awaken to the sounds of thunder and flashes of lightening outside my window, the skies opening up in another drenching downpour in this bizarre winter storm. The snow was gone and the grass showed hints of green through the faint patches of icy water in the backyard.

Keith’s photo, the one with the casual smirk on his face, now looked back at me.

“Visit me again, my sweetheart, in my dreams” I said out loud, only the puppy Lenny nearby responded with a quiet whimper.
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Lenny mugs for the camera in the new studio at Perry Road. (Photo by S.E. Fulmer Photography.)

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