“There Came a Still, Small Voice”

That buck stopped me in my tracks, and reminded me to be still….and grateful

“…and in that still voice, onward came the Lord…”

-from Mendelssohn’s “Elijah”

I just wanted to grab a little fresh air on what, if the weather nerds were to be trusted, was to be the last sunny (or at least partly sunny) day of October.

I headed out on my usual route at the forest preserve savannah, but noticed a little yellow sign tacked to a post. “New Trail,” it said.

Cool, I’ll try a new path – it headed off in a direction I’d always wanted to explore, but couldn’t because of swampy patches and tall grass.

But now a path had been mowed that way, so off I went.

Within five strides I caught my left walking boot on a small stump sticking up right in the middle of this “new trail,” felt myself go horizontal, and WHUMP, fell face first on the damp grass.

Cut the meat of my left hand on the zipper tab of the little wallet-purse I was carrying (lock in the glove box next time, dumbass!), muddied my black jeans and jammed my wrist in a futile attempt to stop a hard face plant. Bruised my right hip which landed hard on the little lipstick compact I had in my coat pocket (even out here, the middle-aged woman rules apply.)

Up slow. Nothing broken, it seems. The cut, while ugly and bleeding, was small and not deep. The black jeans would survive.

Cursing, dropping “F” bombs loudly, out there where cyclists and joggers and other walkers were no doubt trying to grab their few remaining minutes of October glory (oh, nice) I stood up and kept going, bitching about how I had been lured onto a “new trail” that clearly wasn’t ready for use – more stumps and sticks and logs and branches all over the place. I didn’t want to have to walk looking down just to keep myself from falling again.  So I consciously began picking my feet up higher, in a silly-walk-looking kind of march, and pressed on. Came to a little bridge over the swampy part and took a photo of a stand of russet oaks:IMG_20181029_162322442.jpg

And just after I did, walking on a bit, still cursing, I saw him. A buck, with a small but impressive rack of antlers, looking right back at me. Can you find him in the photo at the top of this post? He’s there, just right of center.

“Oh!” I stopped. I stood still. I slowly drew my camera back out from my rear pocket (grateful that I keep in back there, instead of in the front pocket, where the already cracked face of it would no doubt have shattered for good from the impact of the fall.)

I slowly took a few pics, hoping that cropping or zooming might capture him.

As I put my phone away, it occurred to me that in all the times I had seen deer around here, I had never before seen a buck with antlers.

I tried to move closer, slowly and quietly, but the buck took a step toward me, as if to say, “Hey! I’m eating here! Pipe down and shove off!”

Though the deer near here are used to people, I figured it wouldn’t be totally out of the realm of possibility to get gored by a buck who was irritated that I’d interrupted his grazing.

So I turned around and slowly walked away.

And another, smaller buck with smaller antlers, but antlers just the same, came blasting across from my left, toward the buck I was now calling “Big Daddy.”

Wow.

I had only planned to walk for about half an hour anyway, because I had to get home to prep dinner, greet the companion/caregiver and head off to rehearsal. Cleaned and bandaged the hand, no time to change the jeans.

Before being admitted to the Chicago Master Singers, I had never sung “Elijah.” It has been challenging and wonderful to learn the it. Like all of Mendelssohn is to me, it is a beautiful, moving piece.

In the text, when the Lord at last responds to Elijah’s prayers, after a mighty wind (but the Lord was not in the tempest) after the sea was upheaved, after the fire (but the Lord was not in the fire) – “there came a “still, small voice.”

“And in that small voice, onward came the Lord.”

And above him were seraphim, begun with a soft soprano solo, “holy, holy, holy…”

And the heaven’s were filled with his glory.

I looked up Mendelssohn, to make sure I spelled it correctly, and found that it means, “son of Mendel,” and “Mendel” is probably derived from  “Menachem,” which, if Wikipedia is correct,  means, “one who consoles.”

I found consolation for my minor scrapes and bruises when I saw that buck, and when I sang that chorus at rehearsal, I was reminded that God’s amazing creative glory often comes in moments of stillness, like when that buck and I stood looking at each other, dissipating my little pain and my petty little frustration and my cursing and bringing me back to beauty and peace.

And reminding me of recent, seemingly daily reports of inexplicable tragedies and inconceivable losses of breathtaking magnitude. Feeling simultaneously ashamed (for being so upset about my minor, transitory physical scrapes) and grateful, for how lucky I am, to have another day to walk in the woods.

For those whose grief is fresh, whose pain feels insurmountable, for whom the senselessness of this vale of tears is relentless, may you hear that still, small voice, and be consoled.

I’ll be thinking of  you at this weekend’s performances.

Until then, trying to be still, listening for that small voice, hoping for consolation for all those who grieve,

I remain, your sore, humbled, grateful,

Ridiculouswoman

 

 

 

 

Separation Anxiety

I said “yes, I’ll be back…” but I didn’t say, “I promise.”

That’s exactly what it felt like: as if I were leaving my sweet fatherless daughter reaching for a string to hold onto what was left of her deflating heart as she anxiously watched it float away.

“You’re coming back, Mom? Right? You’ll come back?”

I hesitated- her anxiety had made me anxious about traveling, something I used to do routinely this time of year for work, thinking nothing of it, because Mike was with her.

I said, “yes, I’ll be back Tuesday.”

But I didn’t say, “I promise.” I couldn’t. Promise, that is. I was superstitious about it.

I got on the plane for the short trip to Toronto, to attend a gathering of Patrick O’Brian/regency era enthusiasts.

It was the first time we were to be apart overnight since Mike died.

I tried not to telegraph my own anxiety. But I did send updated emergency information to my brothers.

Before I left at 4 a.m., with my daughter and my brother, the uncle who agreed to stay with her while I was away, asleep upstairs, I cried as quietly as I could, and silently asked Mike to help all of us out – not to be upset that it was my brother who was watching her – to just help them both get through it.

I called as soon as I could after landing.

She sounded fantastic. Happy and relieved to hear from me, of course. But more than that. Really, really good. Not just then, but every time I called, all weekend.

She had a clarity about her I hadn’t heard so consistently in a long time.

I think it might have had something to do with presence of her uncle – she spent so much time with her Dad, and there hasn’t been a man around the house in over two years. Something about the male presence must have made her feel comforted, reassured.

She told me what they’d had for lunch and dinner, and how she’d emptied the trash and replaced the trash liners and had fun at art and riding, and did a good job at work.  She asked if I was having fun and what I was doing, and, of course, when I’d be coming home and what sort of present I’d be bringing her.

As if this was a normal trip, and she was a neurotypical person, and it was just another time when Mom would be gone for a few days.

I was massively relieved, and thus able to enjoy the historical presentations, the meals and the English country dancing lesson.

I’d had a gown made especially for the Saturday ball, IMG_20181020_182234257.jpgwhich I wore to the dinner before. I decided to skip the ball itself to go hear the Journey tribute band that was playing at the restaurant attached to my hotel. You know why. (If not, the post behind the link explains it).

When conversation came around to explaining the circumstances of my widowhood, I discovered three sympathetic cancer survivors. I met a lovely couple who shared my interest in the books (she) and in choral singing (he). They took pictures for me, to document the gowns.

I “broke” my  “day/dinner” dress out of ignorance of the mechanics of donning Regency style dresses without the help of a ladies’ maid – which I’m bereft of at present – ha! –  but was repeatedly rescued by other more knowledgeable ladies, with safety pins and offers of the use of sewing kits.IMG_20181020_164858.jpg

My hair was a disaster due to strict observance of a “no scented products” rule in deference to the very sweet and hard-working organizer’s sensitivities, but I was told by several gentlemen (themselves resplendent in period uniform) that I looked radiant.

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My improvised infrastructure didn’t quite succeed in creating the “shelf” effect (which I irreverently refer to as “tits on a platter”). I might splurge on the right kind of custom corset (“short stays”) next time, to shove the girls up high enough to provide …erm… more historically accurate allure. Ha!

I got back to the airport early. My plane was delayed just long enough for the crew to fail to advise passengers that roll-aboards would have to be carried up stairs onto the plane (preventing me from observing my superstitious entering-the-plane ritual) and that, once carried up, said bags wouldn’t fit either under the seat or in the very small overheads and would have to be carried back off again to be “gate-checked” (thereby giving me a second chance to perform my superstitious getting-on-the-plane ritual – whew).

Safe, uneventful flight and landing, breeze through customs, bag was where expected, and, a very rare thing, very light traffic on the road home.

And there she was, accepting a much longer, tighter hug than her tactile defensiveness typically permits. Asking what I brought her.

Wow.

We got through it. We proved we could get through it.

We have a shot at a different but almost-normal life. Though it has to be a life without Mike, it will never be a life without whispers of his love and support from the other side (the right piece on the classical station just as I was thinking of him, a fan that perfectly matched my ball gown waiting for me, available for purchase, a touching Trafalgar dinner toast to “absent friends” that made me miss and remember him with love, and almost made me cry. Oops, writing that did make me cry just now. Oh well. It happens. It should. It’s ok. We’re ok.)

Wishing you support from family and kindness from strangers who quickly become friends, I remain,

Your humble, hopeful, momentarily and more often, happy,

Ridiculouswoman

On, Wisconsin

Beer-cheese soup. Followed by apple cider. Spiked.

I thought “beer cake” took it. The cake, I mean.

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But then came “beer cheese soup,” served with a warm pretzel.

Heretic that I am, I skipped the mustard. But still.

Pumpkins, gourds, hay bale and obligatory (too sugary, but what the hell, it’s October) apple cider obtained, rustic roads driven, stables located for Fall Excursion Three: Trail Ride version, planned for tomorrow. Weather scheduled to cooperate. I’ll keep you posted.

And oh, by the way, trusted friend two has submitted a second positive review with a few minor and constructive editorial suggestions and a vote for pursuing publication (no idea how to do that, but I intend the first step to be an effort to obtain representation by a literary agent. Which I also have no idea how to do. Advice welcome.) Activate Plan A.

And bonus, here’s something I learned from getting a good review from a trusted friend right after returning from Fall Excursion Two: fresh apple cider tastes pretty good when mixed with champagne. And mild terror. Just sayin’.

Gathering courage for the next step (which also may include hearing from brothers, who are much slower than trusted friends in reading the book), I remain,

Your nervous, jumpy, over-caffeinated and energized by the crisp fall weather,

Ridiculouswoman

Frost, Flannel, Fall Excursion

October’s bright blue weather has come at last. Time for flannel shirts and Fall Excursion(s).

Fall excursions were among the first things I wrote about on this blog, which caused it dawn on me that sometime in the past two weeks, this blog had its first anniversary.

I guess I’m supposed to mark that milestone, in some way.

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What have I accomplished in that year?

What’ s this blog got to do with it?

Well, I wrote a book, and wrote about writing the book on the blog.

I “met” some wonderful new people who kindly and generously have liked and followed this blog, and offered support and commiseration.

I rediscovered my love of writing for writing’s sake, and found solace, inspiration, an outlet, and the beginnings of a new and very different kind of life without Mike. Writing has helped me try to turn that life from a life reduced, a life lived with absence,  a piece missing, to a life deepened, enriched and more appreciated, moment by moment.

I forgot to empty the bird bath despite freeze warnings – I hope the crack in it doesn’t expand – but now I know that if it does, if that symbol of my past life with Mike comes apart, I’ll survive it, revive it, somehow, with a new way of keeping a symbol of Mike in my heart with a new symbol of his love for birdwatching in the yard.

I think today is finally the day I’ll give away his fall coat, and his winter boots. I got them as far as the car a few weeks ago, when it was hot and humid. But today, someone is really going to need those.

I’m getting over the panic attacks, even though I’m giving myself a lot of reasons to panic, mainly having to do with money. The burn rate has gone off the charts and the market’s behavior this week was, erm, unhelpful, to say the least.

But something about getting through two years without Mike, and writing about it, and reading about other women’s experience of widowhood and aging, has made me, not so much stronger, as more willing to let go of worry, have faith in God and the universe, keep things in perspective and believe, truly believe, that whatever happens, everything will be ok.

We will emerge. Not submerge.

In the meantime, we will head off into the pumpkin fields, drive the rustic roads and enjoy the loveliness of the October sky, a loveliness all too brief and fleeting, like our “little life…rounded with a sleep.”

And that keeping things in perspective thing? While I wring all I can out of the few gorgeous October days granted this year, I know that it is springtime for followers down under – and through all the little losses and the major catastrophes blasting us everywhere in a daily barrage, rebirth and rebuilding happens, grief can be carried, and assimilated into a new life that is both heavier and lighter, simultaneously more profound and more ethereal, fleeting, yet eternal.

May you find your perfect pumpkin (or spring bloom, depending on your hemisphere), and find comfort that its inevitable decay portends its sure and certain return. Sic transit gloria, world without end.

Glad that my daughter is finally getting enough sleep, but anxious for her to arise so we can get on the road,

I remain,

Your humble, hopeful, dare I say? happy?

Ridiculouswoman

Thankful Thursday Returns

Need more gratitude and laughter. Working on it…

Time for a little gratitude.

Let’s see, here.

There’s this: I’m grateful for my saggy mattress, with the me-shaped trough in the middle. I sink in, it rises up on either side of me and sort of hugs me. Not great for the back, but who doesn’t want a hug right before sleep?

I’m grateful for the inspiration of my daughter’s impulse to redecorate Mike’s room and turn it into a “computer lounge.” After a pretty comical struggle, it’s done, and it looks great, painted a saturated periwinkle-blue, with a new desk, a chair and ottoman and her bookcase. She also moved her stand-up mirror in there, clearing out her bedroom and making that seem much less cramped. Maybe we’ll paint that next.

And then my room. I’m having trouble deciding if I want to paint it – the only color I can come up with that’s different than the current pale yellow, is gray. Gray? Isn’t that kind of, I don’t know, grim? Not necessarily – I can think of it as an extension of the ocean-based palette of blues, greys, greens and sand colors that seems to have emerged in the new kitchen – a nice gentle dove grey might do nicely. And it really does need new carpet. I can feel the credit cards groaning.

I’m very grateful that my daughter and I seem to be pulling through – this time we are taking together is working, I think, to help us both in our grief, to turn it into something we carry with us but that doesn’t weigh us down; to turn from sadness to gratitude for what Mike gave us both in this life, and the sweet whispers of messages we still get from him, from the next.

I’m grateful that sometime over last weekend, this blog exceeded 500 visitors and 1500 views – so, an average of 3 views per visitor. That feels like support, like I’m not so alone in my occasional responsibility-fatigue. It’s good to know readers are out there.

I’m very grateful for the support of a few wonderful other bloggers who have offered consistent likes and comments. You guys lift me up and help me carry on. I’ve added a widget to show a graphic of the posts I’ve liked recently so people who who visit here might visit you, too, there, too. Because you’re really good and I enjoy reading your stuff.

But for all the visits and views, I still have less than 50 followers – Ha! I guess I’m a bit too much of a Debbie Downer for people to want to come back for more. This blog is supposed to be about “learning from loss to live with love and laughter.” I’ve written a lot about loss and love, but not a lot about laughter, lately. I guess I’ve been having a little trouble finding the funny. Working on it.

Speaking of working on it, I’ve signed us up for six months at the local park district fitness center. In the autumn I like to get most of my exercise walking outdoors, and we’ve started doing that this week, now that the weather has cooled a bit. But I know the only thing that really works to keep me from re-inflating to a giant human beach-ball shape is a super low-carb diet coupled with lifting heavy things. My brother the keto guy, who I think is unnaturally and probably unhealthily obsessed with his body mass index, swears by “lifting heavy things,” coupled with intermittent fasting and short bursts of intense exercise. Ergo, the gym. Because, you know, “winter is comin’ “.

So, that’s it for now. Just wanted to say thank you. Thank you, and have a nice day. (Really, I mean it. If I didn’t mean it, we’d be over there in the Snark Tank. I can feel something coming for over there, soon, but not just yet.)

Until then, I remain,

Your loyal, devoted, grateful, looking-for-laughs,

Ridiculouswoman

The Journals

The final journal was a very good read.

Some widows find receipts.

Hotels they didn’t visit. Jewelry they didn’t receive.

Or they find love letters. Not to them.

Shock, anger, disbelief, more grief. Sick with the discovery of betrayal. Embarrassed at having been deceived.

Me?

I already knew about the infidelities, and I found the journals long before he got sick.

He kept one journal just to record his chess games and his thoughts on chess strategy from tournaments he played.

The others were for the others.

When we first met, in the two years we were together before we got married, he wrote poems to me, for me. He refused to save them. Had some artistic, poetical notion of the ephemeral nature of the art, not unlike improvisation, which I was performing when I met him. So I got that. It’s there and it’s gone and you can’t recreate it. I remember only whispers (I first typed that “whishpers.” Ha.)

After we were married, there were poems written for other women. Women he told me about. Women he met in classes he took, or online.

Written in journals he saved.

Twenty years ago, when I confronted him, he raged at me.

Anger at being busted, I suppose. Fear of the consequences, I’m sure.

Once he calmed down and looked at me, he realized he had broken my heart. The heart he loved for its innocence, shown only to him.

He went grocery shopping.

Twenty years ago. I looked out the kitchen window of our townhome in a transitional, slowly gentrifying neighborhood and saw him walking home, down the alley.

Crying.

Bringing me booze (Captain Morgan rum, to be exact – I had never tasted it before. Now, oddly, my cocktail of choice) and a balloon.

Leaving it up to me to decide if he was staying or if he’d go.

I decided he’d stay.

Who else would ever love me? Who else would ever be a father to our daughter?

But he didn’t stop sleeping with other women, until ten years later, when the then-still-unknown illness must have begun to affect his mind, and he came to believe that one of those other women was stalking him. Remotely. From a continent away.

I asked him why he had married me. He said it was because he could see that I needed to be loved.

Not that he loved me, but that he could see that I needed to be loved.

Which brings me back to the journals.

He asked for a journal to write something to our daughter before he died, but became too weak too fast to write much at all.

But he did write something, if not for me, at least about me. And it revealed that he did love me, after all. That he was grateful for our little family, our home and my care for him.

I have included an excerpt of that journal in the Epilogue to my book, because after everything we went through, everything we put each other through, especially after the Bulgarian, I thought he deserved to have a voice there.

As soon as I am finished transcribing that excerpt, the manuscript will be ready to show to my brothers (as a courtesy) and a few friends.

I know those friends, former colleagues, will be brutally honest with me when I ask if I should just dig a hole in the backyard and bury the book forever, never let it see the light of day, not expose myself that way (or any more that way, since this is whole blog is a kind of exposure) or if there might be a story there, some writing they’d recommend to a friend. Maybe even a good read.

Mike’s final journal, found posthumously, though sparse and at times illegible or incoherent, was still a good read. A very good read.

Because I forgave him long ago and eventually came to understand why he had done what he had done, and all the things I had said and done that made him feel belittled. Toxic in a marriage.

And when I found that journal, I found that he had forgiven me. That even with his increasing delirium, he remembered the earliest, best part of our time together.

That he appreciated the new kitchen.

That he still loved my roundness.

“Your head is round, your ears are round, your butt is round,” he wrote.

“Round, not pound,” because he knew I’d find it and that I’d need reassurance that he wasn’t referring to my weight.

He never, not once that I can remember, complained about my weight, no matter how big I got.

I’m grateful that he saw me lose weight, a lot of weight, before he died, and saw me looking more like the woman he married before all of it, and after.

And I’m grateful he left those words behind, for me to find.

Words for the innocent heart he loved.

The heart he broke.

And the heart he mended, through the journal his widow found, after he was gone.

Wishing you forgiveness, amends, comfort and love,

I remain,

Your devoted, broken but healing, struggling but moving forward,

Ridiculouswoman

A Visible Woman

Patrick … saw me – he treated me like I was actually there…not …invisible

For Patrick, from Erie, Pennsylvania

A young man struck up a conversation with me as I was waiting outside by myself for a table at a very tiny, very crowded Thai restaurant in Wrigleyville.

He looked a lot like a young Jason Bateman (not that I’m a big fan of Jason Bateman – it just bugged me so much that I couldn’t think of what actor this guy reminded me of that later that night, I thought of a movie trailer I had seen that guy in, and Googled it by the little I remembered of the plot, even though it wasn’t the type of movie I’d ever go see,  and I lucked out by finding it on the first try).

We’re going to let it slide that the younger-Jason-Bateman-look-alike’s initial purpose in talking to me was to encourage me to accept a table outside on a hot, muggy night, so he could show his visiting Dad and Uncle the very quirky décor inside the crowded little place. He was afraid they wouldn’t get in, and because his visitors were from out of town and might not have another chance, he wanted them to see the inside. Fair enough.

I didn’t care, because I was just hungry, for Thai food specifically. I’d sit anyplace if I could get fed. The hostess was true to her word in seating me in about five minutes. During that five minutes, another nice couple put in for a table and waited, this young man showed up with his guests, and two huge parties of 8 or so all left simultaneously – so the other couple, the young man and his guests, and I, all got to sit inside, under the impressive collection of toy robots, street signs, Cubs paraphernalia, etc. And I ended up sitting at a two-top right next to younger-Jason-Bateman guy, diagonally from his Uncle, who sat opposite his Dad.

After checking with me to see if I was a person who liked to talk (HA! Ok, stop laughing now, followers who know me) he skillfully apportioned his conversation between me and his Dad and Uncle, and managed to engage all of us in comfortable conversation for the duration of our meals.

I introduced myself and he told me his name was Patrick, that he was from Erie, Pennsylvania and had been in Chicago for about two years. The rest of it was pretty light stuff – how he ended up here, his educational background and job, and then mostly baseball and other sports, recreational opportunities on the lakefront, the relative severity of winters in Erie (regular snowfalls of 6 feet or more) and Chicago (regular bouts of subzero temperatures) etc.

When I had finished my meal and settled up, I told Patrick as I was leaving that it had been nice to meet him and wished his Dad and Uncle a pleasant visit.

And as I did this, Patrick stood up (well, sort of half stood up, but hey, it was a tiny, crowded restaurant) and shook my hand good-bye.

Let that land for a minute.

When was the last time you met a young person (I’d say he was maybe 26?) who had been raised to observe often forgotten courtesies, like rising when a lady (or anyone older than you) was arriving or departing? I was touched, and charmed, especially because it seemed like an unconscious habit – this is something Patrick does for ladies and his elders, I suspect, without really thinking about it.

But what really made my day was that Patrick saw me – he treated me like I was actually there, not as if I was an invisible woman. He just marched right up to me and started talking (about me maybe sitting outside, but we’re letting that slide, remember? He was gracious enough to keep talking to me once everyone was seated.)

I’ve seen posts by women my age, or even quite a bit younger, who wrote that they felt a kind of freedom in their invisibility, knowing that because of their, erm, maturity, nobody would really pay much attention to them in public (unless they made a spectacle of themselves, and as we know, I’m the one who specializes in that – see the latest episode related over there in the “Snark Tank”) and they could go about their business without worrying about what anyone thought and without being accosted for attention from others. They were fine with whatever attention they got at home. From their still-living husbands.

Invisibility doesn’t work for me – while I have always enjoyed my own company and have been happy in solitude when I have chosen it, I still crave social contact with adults who are not emotionally dependent on me to help them cope with shared grief.  So a casual conversation with a good-mannered person (ok, man, but as the supply of them is inverse to the age of the woman, I’m trying to enjoy the company of women, more, too) who may only have been talking to me because he had good manners, can make my day.

So thanks for treating me as visible, Patrick. It made the difference between a day that might have included weeping and a day that didn’t.

(And thanks also for seeming genuinely surprised that I was old enough to have had my heart broken by the Cubs in both ’69 and ’84 – things your Uncle remembered in detail, but that certainly occurred before you were born).

Looking forward to my next encounter with a nice man (ok, person) with good manners and the grace to seem surprised by my age, I remain,

Your humble, devoted, lonely but hopeful,

Ridiculouswoman