What’s That Fluttery Feeling?

Photo by Chelsea Curry

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –

And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –

I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.

– Emily Dickinson, via the Poetry Foundation

Nailed it, Emily.

A very rare yellow cardinal was spotted in an Illinois backyard in February.

That yellow cardinal reminded me that “rare” doesn’t mean “impossible,” that hope isn’t foolish–it’s reasonable, necessary, and wonderful. That yellow cardinal made me realize I’d been suppressing hope for too long.

Last Wednesday, I was scrolling through my email and noticed an email from my health care network. I hadn’t visited the doctor recently, so I was puzzled.

I opened the message and was elated to find an invitation to make an appointment for a COVID-19 vaccination.

I got shaky. I logged in and grabbed the first appointment listed, but the system returned a “try again.” I got frantic. Was this one going to turns into a days or weeks-long ordeal, staying online 24/7, refreshing my screen, logging out and in, to try to snare an appointment?

I tried the next available appointment, and miraculously, it went through. Success!

I got my first of two shots of the Pfizer vaccine at my local hospital on Friday morning. My second shot is April 2. I should achieve as much immunity as the shots can confer (95% effective) by April 16.

I thought I had been handling all this OK. Angelic daughter and I had settled into a routine that sustained us. We knew what would happen when, which day of the week I’d mask up and go to the grocery store, what time of day we’d take breaks together, and what was for dinner each night. The most I’d say about when we could get vaccinated was “eventually-maybe by May or June.”

Until I got that appointment booked, I hadn’t realized how shut down I’d been, avoiding looking forward, or imagining how things might be “when COVID is over.” When the system confirmed my appointment and issued instructions (where to park, don’t get there more than 15 minutes early, etc.), hope became real for me.

The hospital marched dozens of people through for their shots in just minutes, and found places for everyone in the “observation” room where you go for 15 minutes after the shot, to make sure there are no adverse reactions. They even had a cheerful “greeter” chirping “thanks for coming!”

While I was in the observation room, a stocky man with scraggly grey hair entered. He was offered a seat but said no, he’d stand. He went and stood behind the chair of a tired-looking, grey-haired woman. He said something cheerful to her. Obviously, they were a couple, and he was comforting and reassuring his other half.

I found that touching, and a little painful. Mike hasn’t been here to go through all this with us, and he wasn’t there to go through the hope and joy of the first vaccine shot with me, either.

But I think he’s been around.

There’s been a new owl in the neighborhood since last spring.

Yesterday, we sat outside on the deck, which has emerged from under 30 inches of (now melted) snow. As sunset approached, that owl flew overhead, low enough to hear its wings whoosh, as it had done last spring.

Last year, I could barely buy enough mouse traps to cope with the winter rodent invasion. A chipmunk got into the house too, leaping out at me from a cubby in my desk hutch.

This winter, we didn’t have a single mouse in the house, and no rogue chipmunks scritching around, stealing insulation from the wall adjoining the garage.

I think I have that owl to thank for that. Maybe he was watching out for us, doing what he could.

Now, it’s a waiting game until Angelic Daughter gets her invitation. In the meantime, my jab of hope has inspired me to step up my self-care. I’ve even allowed myself to start thinking about traveling to meet a great-nephew, now three years old, and about when I could get to Maine, or a concert, ball game, or show.

Hope gives me the resolve to live a more complete life. I’m determined to soak in every glorious second of it. I feel like I’ve been given bonus round, a spectacular second chance, and I’m going to do my best not to screw it up.

Here’s hoping your invitation is on its way. Until then I remain,

your hopeful, energized, slightly giddy, but still cautious, masked, and socially distanced,

Ridiculouswoman

Just Get Past This…Then That…Then That

The first year was filled with ritualized “first withouts” – birthdays, excursions, holidays –  around the calendar to the first anniversary of his death. Attending sporting events and concerts I thought he would have enjoyed, as if the experience could invoke his presence;  finishing work on the house and yard I had hoped he’d live to see. A much-too-soon attempt at finding someone new in the absurdity of online dating, before his stone was even laid.

Displacement activity. Avoidance. Failure to yield to the grief and let it have its head.

The second year was filled with blogging, writing the book and redecorating, as if a coat of paint and some rearranged furniture could fairy-godmother us into a life beyond mourning. Kidding myself that our daughter was finding comfort in activity, new skills, greater independence.

And then Father’s Day – Fatherless Day – the awkwardness of people who asked us what we’d be doing in observance, resisting the temptation to tell them we’d be visiting his grave, and watch the shock and embarassment –  those came anyway when Angelic Daughter answered the only way she knew how – “Dad’s in heaven.”

That day, all the busy-ness of the previous year and a half hit the wall, and demanded a do-over.

We quit, came home, and sat with it. Our “days without Dad,” our house without “his” chair, “his” room, his cooking, his man-presence.

Weeks of dark winter nights filled with tears, then silence. Then restlessness.  I felt my broken-open heart closing again. Retreating into routine, bleakness instead of gratitude, loneliness instead of love. Not much laughter.

This was not the plan – not the “don’t waste another minute” life I thought I learned, from losing Mike, to live.

I want to fix it, but what I have ended up with, right now at least, feels like a never-ending procession of milestones to be got past.

“I can take care of that, once I get past this…”

Just get through it – the holidays again, the wisdom teeth, the job search, the doctor’s appointments.

What then? Just another hill to climb? Another hurdle, another hoop?

I’ve told my daughter the necessary – that we are always going to miss Dad, that every day for the rest of our lives with be a day without Dad – but never without his love – and that we must find a way to carry grief with us without letting it weigh us down.

Do as I say, not as I do.

Because it does weigh me down.

Every time I do a half-assed job of cleaning the Bulgarian-built  kitchen, still lovely, but not longer new.

Every time I try to make a meal that he used to make for her, and do an adequate job, but never an identical job.

Every time I have to make a decision by myself without him here to bounce it off of, even if I know he would have said it didn’t matter either way.

It takes me way too long to finish a book these days.

I’m watching too much television, in my “boudoir” for one.

Not getting enough sleep.

I keep thinking, if I get that job, things will normalize. It will be more like it used to be.

We’ll hire a wonderful new person to stay with her, to get her out more, expand her range and just help her have more fun. Something I’ve never been very good at.

But Mike was an expert at it. A really fun Dad.

So of course it won’t “normalize” things. It will never be like it used to be. Because it won’t be Mike taking care of her, taking her places, listening to music with her, goofing around.

And now, Memorial Day is coming.

Just get past it.

Then medical screenings – routine, but requiring anesthesia.

I’ll update the emergency information – part of the deal, now – and send it out to the brothers, and this time, the sisters-in-law. If by some mischance it’s not me, she’ll need another woman to understand her needs.

Just get past it. I’ll be so relieved, when I wake up.

But then, Father’s Day again.

Then the Fourth of July.

Occasions for visits to his grave. A picnic on the Fourth.

Just get past it.

No trip to Maine this year – can’t afford it. Maybe that will give us a break, from the next one and the next one, this endless pummeling by rituals and reminders of grief, gotten through, only to see the next one coming.

The writer’s conference was good, encouraging – and then I get home and feel like I’m losing my nerve, like I want to curl up in a little fetal ball and hide.

I regard counseling as a form of self-indulgence.

Maybe I should just get past that.

Spinning my emotional wheels, I remain,

Your sad, skeptical, stuck,

Ridiculouswoman

Image by Gordon Johnson from Pixabay