Education


I’m sickened by today’s events in Charlottesville. I’m sickened by the tableau of nazi and white supremacist history being writ large and live in this day and age. I am sickened that the ideologies of hate and bigotry are so freely, loudly, and angrily shouted on the streets of America where so many years before, and even so recently, we believed this diseased torrid flesh-eating curse had finally been permanently banished. Yet this hate led to someone dying and others seriously hurt.

IMG_0058

Here’s another blogger’s response to the weekend’s events title My Fellow White Americans. And, sadly, I couldn’t agree more.

As I prepared to publish this, I came across a draft of an entry that I’d failed to publish shortly after the election. Yet as I re-read it now, I am deeply saddened that my fears have unfortunately been substantiated. Here it is, my previously unpublished post from last November.

Wrapping my head around a vote

written November 14, 2016

I just left a college-wide meeting where about 120 members of the campus community came together to talk about the election of Donald J. Trump and results of the most divisive election in modern history. Since that outcome of November 8th, I’ve been trying to wrap my head around the disconnect and compartmentalization that describes how many people I know and care about – including colleagues, neighbors, and others – could vote for a candidate who spent 16 months spewing ever more vile rhetoric of hate, homophobia, misogyny, racism, and xenophobia. Even more so, this same candidate chose not to demonstrate any scorn for those who perpetuated and even advanced this hate speech into action. Rather, he seemed to encourage it.

The kinder people I speak of are not racist. And I believe them. But then I’m left with a question of judgement. Did they hate Hillary so much more that they were willing to look past the comments of a person whose word-vomit and narcissism was decorated with the lacy fabric of… let’s just call it “crap”… the words are there and yet to repeat them gives them legs.

A consummate con, Trump is a showman whose singular goal is to get more views, more news coverage, more attention, regardless of how that happens. And somehow, nearly half the voters were able to swallow their own pride, set aside their own dearly-held values, and select a candidate whose con is only out-sized by his list of vile statements which emboldened a racist, homophobic, xenophobic, and misogynistic underbelly of America to come out of the woodwork. When is the last time a President was openly supported by the KKK or other white nationalist groups?

So I sat among colleagues who I hold great respect for, and even fondness, for we are, after all, a family of people committed to the common goal of changing the world through the success of our students. Yet, as I heard my well-intentioned co-workers from counseling offer ways of coping with anxiety – mostly intended for students in the room – I heard one of them, a kind-hearted white gentleman, finish his list of tips interspersed with the statement “because life will go on.” He had been doing so well… but then he went…there.

Life will go on? I guess. But in that one statement, he succeeded in diminishing the very real fears of many of the people in the room. Another colleague who I have often tapped to talk about cross-cultural dialogue and understanding took note of this statement. As a well-educated African American man, he knew the counseling and psychology phraseology. But he also knew what his own fears felt like. And he feared that life was not going to “go on” the same way for a long time. His pain was palpable and I felt a lump in my throat.

Sitting nearby was another colleague who I know to be gay, but he did not speak up. From his body language in response to an LGBT student’s expression of fear and concern countered with a defiant statement of hope, I could feel his pain, as well.

But then another colleague, an African American woman asked a variation of what I had already expressed via the microphone being passed around. How do I wrap my head around the fact that there are people I know who voted for this man in spite of the banner of hate that he waived? How do I resolve this conflict with people who accepted his hate, but then want to work with me? An unfulfilling answer came from a white male in the room who acknowledged his privilege but missed the point. He said we needed to just move past this and go on.

There it was again. Just move on.

Yep. Accept the fact that someone who has emboldened his most extreme followers to openly spew anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, anti-women, anti-gay, anti-Hispanic, anti-Black crude, cruel, hate speech of the most deplorable kind, should be welcomed with open arms into the leadership of not only this country, but the free world? Accept that? Nope. Not at all.

I know that my male white colleague, and many people who voted for “the Don,” didn’t mean to vote for the vile crap that came along with his nonsensical campaign “speeches” and hyperbolic “big” promises. They may have been focused on only a few issues, one of them likely a palpable dislike for Hillary. I get it. She wasn’t my first choice, either. But she is highly experienced and well qualified for the job, regardless of the “email scandal” non-scandal that swirled around her campaign. I know that the people I call my friends, neighbors, and others I care about are caring people, too. And believe me, I hope above hope that I am wrong, that all the terrible things that the Don has unleashed will fizzle without doing permanent damage.

In the meantime, I don’t think “moving on” is quite the right term for what I – and many others – will be doing. Instead, we too, will become more emboldened to reach out to each other for support, for healing, to promote and hang tight to the values we hold dear, for love, kindness, acceptance, tolerance, celebration of differences, and…a brighter future. We will stand up to bullying, stand by our friends, step forward towards a more inclusive community.

 

Perhaps…maybe someday… we’ll even “move on.” Maybe after we have somehow managed to overcome this Pandora’s box of evil hate that I think we can all (mostly) agree is antithetical to the values of this nation, and close that horrid loathsome box shut again.


 

IMG_0057

Charlottesville, Virginia 8/12/17

8/12/17 – Unfortunately, far from “moving on,” it seems that the only way to fight evil is to face it head on, relentlessly, and without deviation. The opposite of evil is love. But today, evil is my enemy, and love for my fellow compassionate humans is my weapon of choice. – mjf

 

 

In the blog entry “My Mother Wasn’t Trash,” writer Joshua Wilkey shares his mother’s important and sensitive story about her life in poverty in Appalachia. It’s worth a read.

When people are eaten up mentally and physically by a lifetime of compounded shitty choices, they reach a point where they can’t even decide what is best anymore, because they realize that no matter what they do – no matter how hard they try – they are cogs in a broken machine and nobody cares about them anyway. Poor Appalachian people are broken, but not nearly as broken as the systems that keep them poor. 

Thank you, Joshua Wilkey, for bringing a voice forward to be heard.

IMG_2269.JPG
Detail from an artist’s book created for a presentation on my growth through my doctoral studies.

============================================================

Well… That’s done! Phew! I have successfully defended my dissertation and can now officially be called Doctor Fulmer. It’s been a long and winding road and I can unequivocally say I am not who I was when I began.

And this is not where I thought I would be when I finished. But here, indeed, is where I am…

Tomorrow will bring a new challenge, something to change the course of my life… Sometimes it’s just a small thing… Or just a word or two. “Do you want to move in with me?”

You never know, really, how your life will shift ever so imperceptibly in a different direction. Not every change is brought on by the seismic shift of death. Sometimes… just sometimes…it is just one small thing you never really believed you would hear or say.

And then it’s over. And you’re sitting there thinking: “hmmm. That’s it. What next?”

In a way, life has been in a simultaneous holding pattern while I finished this doctoral degree, while at the same time rushing forward towards a future that was not entirely in my original plan.

Well, it’s not like I don’t have other things to do… Or want to do. Make art. Write more. Build a house. Move up in my career so I can put my skills to the test.

In a way, life has been in a simultaneous holding pattern while I finished this doctoral degree, while at the same time rushing forward towards a future that was not entirely in my original plan.

Let me explain. For the reader who is unfamiliar with my story, I offer a brief synopsis. Life was good. Really good. Daughter #1 had just gotten married to a wonderful man. Daughter #2 was graduating from university and had two jobs already lined up. I had finished my first year in a doctoral program while working full-time in a job I love. I had been awarded a short-term Fulbright to Russia. My husband of nearly 30 years and I had purchased our dream property where he could have his workshop, family art studios, gallery, and even a future new home. Life was good.

And then it wasn’t. (Read more about it In earlier posts going back to September 2012.) He had lost weight, been fighting a “cold” and feeling weaker. A month of tests led to a diagnosis of Stage 4 cancer, unknown primary (likely pancreatic), prognosis extremely poor. From diagnosis to death – less than 3 months. He made it just past his 54th birthday and our 30th anniversary. My life felt like it had completely crumbled.

Promises were made, though. He made me promise: Don’t sell the property, but finish it for the family to use for their studios as planned, and for my own uses. Finish the doctorate. He really wanted me to do that. He was upset that I had dropped out that summer to care for him. But, really, who can concentrate on Quantitative Research Methods while managing the care and emotional roller coaster of dealing with your dying spouse? But…then he was gone and I had to deal with the emotional crater that is grief.

First, I finished the renovations on the gallery house which contained daughter #1’s photo studio upstairs. Then a new fence, and retaining wall went in. The farmhouse is slowly being dismantled and parts saved for salvage. Steven, my companion in all of this, has tirelessly put his heart and soul into the work, along with any college students I can hire to assist.

Most recently, the large 4000 sq. ft. workshop space has been slated for renovations. Stacks of the 71 new windows fill the crowded shop in anticipation of being installed late fall, along with new insulation, siding, and steel roof. The emerging economy has slowed progress as the contractor I have worked with, an old friend of my late husband’s, is backed up from other work. But progress inches along and I have no doubt that it will all be done before Spring.

While all this was happening, I caught up. I finished all of my coursework, including the Quantitative Research course which I did by independent study with the original and very understanding instructor. I did all of this with a 4.0 GPA. At the commencement and hooding ceremony held last May, I was awarded the Faculty’s Distinguished Scholar-Practitioner Award for my thoughtful approach to the various studies, sometimes challenging my classmates to look at things from a different perspective.

And then, only five months after commencement, I have completed the dissertation defense, receiving high praise for intellectual standards for my work.

The meaning of pursuing these goals had changed. My life’s partner was gone… And my life had been designed for a partner.

I tell you all this not out of boastfulness. I tell you this because it was done in order to honor my promise. For if I had not made that promise, there were many times when it would have been easier to just walk away from it all. The meaning of pursuing these goals had changed. My life’s partner was gone… And my life had been designed for a partner. My new companion, however, was not going to let me give up on those promises.

And so how does one do it? It began with a simple gesture of sharing… Opening up one’s vulnerabilities and accepting that you might get hurt… But that you’d already felt the worst of pain. So what could it hurt if you shared a little of yourself with someone new who seemed to care and shared some vulnerabilities of his own?

It’s been a year and a half since I met Steven and he’s been the kindest and gentlest person that the spirits could have sent across my path at a time when his kind of personality was just what I needed. And since then, I have grown to respect and admire this self-described hillbilly for his creativity, innovation, and practical smarts. He is a good balance to my over-intellectualism. He wears his heart on his sleeve which reminds me to recognize my own capability to love someone again. And frankly, he’s always there with a good hug…just when I need it.

So I come back to where I began this brief story. I finished my doctoral studies. I am now Dr. Fulmer. I began as the wife of a loving husband of 30 years. I survived through my studies as a widow. I am now looking forward to building a new life with a new partner in a new home on the dream property from before.

The shape of the dream has shifted…just a little… I face a new challenge shared by many in the “sandwich generation” who are looking at caring for aging parents…mine who will join me in this new home I’ve designed. And I feel confident that, with Steven as my companion on this new journey, we will be able to meet whatever life’s challenges lay ahead. But I’m not naive. I know that, without warning, the road can shift beneath your feet. And life will never be the same again. You can’t live your life looking only in the rear view mirror as you try and move forward. And you can’t live your life paralyzed by the fear of a shifting road.

All you can do is take this long and winding path of life one step at a time. Look ahead to the dreams you continue to create. Scan side to side to see who is coming with you. And occasionally glance back to remind you how far you’ve come. Only in this way can you live your life moving forward.

Besides, I’m all good with the ghosts of those who still travel these roads with me around here.

============================================================

IMG_2370.JPG
A good omen. Swans are visible through the branches along the pond’s edge as the sun sets behind my property where I’ll be building a new home.

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.
———————————————————————————————————–

IMG_1986.PNG
———————————————————————————————————–

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.

DSC_0337.JPG
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.

20130302-064744.jpg
Perry Road workshop after a spontaneous sleigh ride down the hill, a week ago. The sun was quickly melting a new fallen snow.
———————————————————————————-

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.
—————————————————————————-

20130302-064626.jpg
And the demolition begins, at home on Jerome Lane.

Image

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.

——————————————————–

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.

——————————————————–

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.

—————————————–
20130201-012721.jpg
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!
—————————————–

20130201-021048.jpg

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.

—————————————–
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.
————————————————-

20130201-012412.jpg
Lenny mugs for the camera in the new studio at Perry Road. (Photo by S.E. Fulmer Photography.)

Next Page »