June 2010


FIRST CONTACT: She was 5 and I was 3.  She pushed me off the chair — or did I push her off?  Our Mothers never told us who pushed whom, just that it happened.  It was a Ladies’ Aid Meeting at Our Saviour Lutheran Church, 420 Downer Place, Aurora, IL.  I did not have to look up that address.  I remember it well.

We broke up for a few years after that incident, sixteen years to be exact.  I tried other girls in between.  There was Marsha in the 1st Grade.  I was devastated when she moved.  I don’t remember if we ever actually talked.  That is irrelevant in the First Grade.  That, by the way, was the year Butch and I decided that we would walk home to our respective houses on the same block even though it was just recess time.  The Principal came, picked me up, and sent me back to the classroom.  I still have a little video in my mind of walking back into the classroom that afternoon.

Then a few years later, I was playing in the basement at Sharon’s house (how I got there and why, I have no idea).  She kissed me.  It scared the bejeebers out of me and I ran home as fast as I could go.  We never spoke again.  I suspect Sharon doesn’t even remember it happening.  If she does, I doubt she would ever admit to it.

Then in the 7th Grade, it was Georgia.  Her hair stuck out in curls on either side of her head. She looked cute in her Poodle skirt and bobbie sox rolled down.  The closest we came to contact was sitting next to one another by accident at an all school Assembly.  She seemed decidedly annoyed that she ended up sitting next to me.

Then there was Paula, tall, with long blond hair.  It was the 8th Grade.  I thought there was hope.  She shut me down when I called her.  She said, “I thought I told you not to call!”  Then she hung up.  She never told me not to call!!

By the way, those all happened in the years I was still tall, second tallest boy in the whole Seventh Grade of maybe sixty kids.  Apparently my Pituitary Gland decided it had had enough and stopped putting out.  Everyone else grew, I was done with that.

It was not until Pam that a girl I liked actually liked me back.  She was from our church, a year older and pretty.  As a Sophomore in high school, it was no small thing to be going with someone older.  After all the rejection, I was sort of surprised anyone would be interested.  When I got my class ring as a Junior, my parents were mightily displeased when I gave it to Pam to declare that we were going steady.  Let me clarify for the young among you.  It was two years of dating before we held hands and not until she was at college that we kissed — and then it was the sort of kiss that would be seen in a 1950’s movie.  Some time in the Senior year, I broke up with her.  I am not sure why.  I remember during the first year in college writing her and telling her I had made a mistake, but it was too late by then.

My Senior year I did have a couple of dates with classmates.  I don’t suppose there would have been any future if the date with Carol had been any more than just a one time casual date.  I am not sure a Jewish Spouse would have been a popular thing for a Pastor in a fairly conservative branch of Lutheranism.  One of the kids I hung out with in choir and music activities suggested that I ought to become a Rabbi (which is what Mary Ann’s family calls me).  I did try to learn to chant Hebrew once.  I could read Hebrew and I could chant, but I could not put them together as any fourteen year old Jewish child who goes to Hebrew School can.

When I got to college in Milwaukee, the girls were nowhere to be found. It was an all male student body.  What a bummer!  I asked a school secretary out, but she said no.  Later she told me that she was going out with someone in her home town and was afraid she might like me too much.  Nice try!  Actually, she married someone who turned out to be a nationally acclaimed writer.  She did very well.  I know her husband as well and like both of them.  They are good people.

In college I did date for a few weeks a girl who made me look tall.  Then a young woman came to the school with a choir from another campus of our church body’s schools.  Alice had striking red hair.  We sort of hit it off, but distance made dating impractical.  I don’t actually know how interested she might have been.

Understand that I was always surprised when there was so much as a hint of interest from a girl.  Short, big ears, pointed nose, and no practice at the art of dating and interacting with girls, made me very unsure of myself.  In those years there was no “hooking up” to be done, especially for a naive ministerial student.  Courting was a very measured matter.  Or maybe that I thought so was one of my problems.

After the first year of college in Milwaukee, I returned to Aurora to work at Fredrickson’s Office Supply and live at home with my parents for the summer.  I had participated, and, I guess, help found a Singles’ Group at Our Saviour.  We enjoyed social gatherings, playing Hearts, eating pizza.

SECOND CONTACT: She and Joy were sitting on the bleachers two rows down and just to the left of me.  She was yelling (not sweetly) at the umpire at the church softball game.  It is there that I met her again after the nasty incident at the Ladies’ Aid Meeting.  She had long dark hair, olive skin, striking blue eyes, and a whole lot of attitude.  Whatever “at first sight” there was, it sure turned into love in short order.

That story will continue tomorrow.

Today went reasonably well.  I began it with two rounds on the path out in the open area at Cedarcrest, the Governer’s Mansion.  It is a beautiful estate whose grounds are open to the public.  It was a cool, clear morning.  The birds were busy, singing loudly.  By the way, an exercise walk is not a time for birdwatching.  It is a time for bird listening.  I was frustrated at how little I know about identifying birds by there call.  I did recognize the Red Winged blackbird’s various songs.  It took me right back to my years playing in the swamp.  The walk was over two miles. At least it is a start.

Every once in a while it would pop into my mind that I needed to get back to the car to check on Mary Ann.  After one round, I needed to get back to the house to check on Mary Ann, then I realized that was not necessary — I could walk a second round.

After showering, having breakfast and feeding the birds, there were a few emails to which I responded.  Among them were the ones related to what we will be doing in the Aurora area as a remembrance for Mary Ann.  The date is set:  Saturday, July 10 at Reuland’s, 115 Oak Avenue, Aurora, IL 60506.  We have the room from 11:30am to 3:30pm.  We will set a specific time for the worship part and remembrances and include that information in a subsequent post.  My hope is that everyone who wants to come will come for the luncheon portion also.  Those of you who read this blog and are close enough to come are welcome. Please comment to let us know a number so that we can tell Reuland’s how many to prepare for.

When I was walking this morning I thought again about the difference between what our life together looked and felt like from the inside compared to how it looked (and now feels) from the outside.  Our life was not lived in relation to what could have been.  It was lived in relationship to each other and our reality at the moment.  It was the only life we could actually live.  What could have been simply did not, does not exist.  It is somewhere in those observations that I hope to find the ability to come to terms with the horror of what I see when I look back, when the video is running in my mind.

The day included a trip to the funeral home to deliver the check for the difference between what the Pre-need Plan paid and what it actually cost.  I caught the Assistant Administrator off guard when I phoned her after receiving the bill today.  I told her that they had undercharged me for something.  She corrected it.  When I brought the check, she admitted that it was the first time anyone had called to notify them of being billed too little.  I would have complained if it had been the other way around.  They did the work, they deserve the pay.  They also did a very good job.  By the way, the funeral home is just blocks away from G’s Frozen Custard.  Who knows when I will be back in that area.  (Actually, I could have mailed the check.  I saved a 44 cent stamp and it only cost me the a dollar’s worth of gas and $3.52 for the Sundae. What a deal!)

Apologies — I still haven’t started the Thank You’s.  I now have absolutely no excuse not to get things done.

If you want to write a comment about this or any of the posts on this blog, look to the column on the right side of this page, titled “Recent Posts,”  click on the name of a post and you will find a box at the end of that article in which you can write a comment.  Clicking on the title of the post you are reading will accomplish the same thing.  Comments are appreciated.

It is the name of a movie and what happened at our (my) house last night.  I set the stage in a way that would allow it to happen.  I needed for it to happen.  It changes nothing.  It just needed to get out.

After finishing writing last night, I did a few chores and then got out the box of letters I wrote Mary Ann.  I put on the CD that had brought me to tears months ago when we first realized it was time to call in Hospice.  I read a few of the letters.  Actually, the letters did not tap my emotions.  They are pretty boring.  I ramble on about Greek tests and singing groups and learning recitativs for someone who couldn’t sing the solos at the last minute.  Each letter so far, and I am sure all of them, end with declarations of love in as many different ways as I could figure out to say them.  I have read eight of the letters so far.  Understand, for three years, except for summers when we could see each other, I wrote her a letter every night.  (No wonder I have gotten into this blogging every night business.)

Remember, I was nineteen or twenty years old and very much in love.  They sound like something from a bad romantic movie.  The only redeeming element is that I really meant what I was saying: “I don’t know how to tell you just how much I love you and miss you.  I can hardly believe it myself.  I love you.”  Then another: “Even if you didn’t love me — I love you enough for both of us.”  I will spare you any more for now.

It was not the letters. Certainly the music lowered my defenses and helped me let go of my control.  I just pulled down a picture of the two of us from a year or two or three ago.  It is the one that was cropped for the obituary.  I looked and I remembered the indignity of it all.  I remembered what she endured looking from the outside in rather than from inside the struggle.  I could not tolerate the thought that she is gone.  I spoke out loud because I couldn’t not speak.  In a moment of self-pity, I asked “Why did you give her to me to love and then take her away.”  I was angry — not out of control angry, just angry.  “It’s not fair that she should have had to suffer so — she did nothing to deserve it.”

Please understand, I realize that God doesn’t like death and sickness any more than we do.  I realize that God understands death from the inside out and the outside in.  God didn’t wish for Mary Ann to suffer, for me to be in pain with her.  What God did was hang in there with us through it all, never letting go of us.  Understand also that God’s relationship with us is strong enough and intimate enough to allow anger to be a part of it.  I needed to be angry at that moment.  Read the Psalms some time and see just how many are laments spewing anger at the unfairness of life.  Pastor Mike addressed this matter at the funeral.

Noisy tears flowed.  The dam broke.  Every time I looked at her face and remembered, the tears flowed.  In an earlier post, I mentioned that I used to count how many times I had cried in my adult life.  The first time was after I got the phone call that my Dad had died.  I was 42 years old.  Until last January, I had not yet run out of fingers on one hand to count the times.  I have stopped counting and will never do so again.

I guess there was some part of me that still thought it was a sign of weakness for a man to cry.  I knew before and I know still more certainly now that crying, actually letting the pain in far enough to feel it, is an act of courage that is demanded if wholeness and healing will come.  Running away from it or pretending it isn’t there or encrusting it in some sort protective casing is hardly the path to strength of character and the ability to endure whatever comes.

There was an interesting coincidence at our Spiritual Formation group this morning.  The lesson in our discussion booklet for this morning was entirely devoted to the need to let go, to die, before we can rise to new life.  The last of the four discussion questions printed at the end of the readings was, “What role does the reality of death and the deaths of those you love play in your life?”  Talk about timing.

Today was a busy Wednesday, as they often have been for some reason.  It started with the Spiritual Formation Group on the deck.  While that was going on Landscaper Sheila was doing her final maintenance of the landscaping she put in this spring.  She will return in the fall to do some clean up and prepare it for winter.  I am on my own for the rest of the summer.  Those plantings are in great jeopardy!

In the mid-morning, Dave came over to get a couple of death certificates and obtain the signatures needed on a variety of forms for the financial issues following a death.  Then Kristie came over to do the monthly house cleaning.  Now the house is not only empty but empty and clean.

I did some overdue posting in the computer check register while she cleaned.  It will take a while to get my bearings in that arena.  Everything seems to be on course.  I have configured the online emails from the Caregiving Spouses of those with Lewy Body Dementia so that I have to go to the web site to read them.  As a result, the hours I have spent checking emails have pretty much been eliminated.  I just can’t read those emails at the moment.  It takes me right back to something from which I need a break for now.

I had leftovers from the funeral dinner for lunch and dinner.  Next I will start on all the containers that Lisa put in the freezer when food was coming in faster than we could eat it. It should be many weeks before it is necessary for me to exercise my culinary skills.

I decided it would be best to get out of the house for a while, so I made a quick run to pick up a couple of things.  One is a zippered cover for a pillow.  No amount of soaking in Oxy Clean or spraying with Spray and Wash is able to get the stains out.  Mary Ann was taking Plavix and Aspirin to thin her blood because of her stroke.  Often her gums or nose would bleed a little during the night.  The pillow is certainly clean, and now it looks that way also.

The house is becoming very neat and orderly and boring.  I still hope to at least get my office, which is a complete shambles, cleaned up.  That happening would be right up there with the Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes.  Actually, I suppose my problem is that I have the twelve baskets of leftovers and nowhere to put them.

Here are the ideas that I have seen so far for the title of a new blog to replace this one: newlifeemerging.com; calltocontemplation.com; buildingnewlife.com; next chapter; life after retirement; thecontinuinglife.com; my journey continues; life’s journey continues; a new role begins; continuing life’s pathway; making new memories — remembering the old; progressive pathways; pathways of personal progression; day by day; heading home; homeward bound; faith journal; moving on; stepping stones (to healing).

By the way, whatever it is, it needs to be in the .com format and checked with a site like godaddy.com to see if it is available or already in use.

Well, this day has come to an end.  As I mentioned to Son Micah, the challenge is to manage the pause and stop button on the video running in my mind of Mary Ann’s most difficult days including the last one, so that there will be minimal flooding from the broken dam.  Today was better.

If you want to write a comment about this or any of the posts on this blog, look to the column on the right side of this page, titled “Recent Posts,”  click on the name of a post and you will find a box at the end of that article in which you can write a comment.  Clicking on the title of the post you are reading will accomplish the same thing.  Comments are appreciated.

Lisa and the girls left about an hour ago.  What now?  There are plenty of things that need to be done.  That is not the issue.  There are thank you’s to be written. That will be very therapeutic for me.  The list of minor and major tasks is long.  At the moment I am doing a lot of easy, little things here at the house.

…It is now just me.  Schendel Pest Control Tom just found a huge nest outside the sun room and dispatched the ants.  There are still a few inside the house, but they are feasting on Tero, and if all goes well will be gone soon.

Sun Room contractor Jerry just called to begin work, hopefully, on putting the shade up on the deck.  I guess I am not going to be alone here today after all.  Tom and Jerry will have been over. Who knew?

I am experiencing what I have heard about from others hundreds of times.  It is hard concentrate.  It is hard to muster the stamina to do anything that takes any thought.   Getting out of the house to run errands sounds okay, but there are so many things that need to be done, running errands all day I suspect would get very frustrating.  I would be anxious to get back to the things that need to be done.

By the way, I am not (at least at the moment) whining about my situation.  I am just describing it.  There will, I am sure, be plenty of whining going on soon enough.

There was a large stack of cards in the mail again today, along with a packet from Thrivent (our church sponsored financial organization).  There was in that packet a CD of some songs that actually turned out to be helpful while I opened cards.  This is a time when simple truths, ones with which we get bored in good times or that slide into the back corner of our awareness, become very powerful.

Jerry needed help holding up the other end when he put up the shade on the deck.   That was a great distraction.  He is a talker too.  As soon as the sweat dries, I will begin running some errands.

…The errands included taking a death certificate to the bank.  All that needed to be done was get it into the records there.  I took back to her the tools that Occupational Therapist Karen had given Mary Ann and trained her to use, so that Karen could give them to other patients.  I stopped by the florist, Flowers by Bill, to thank him for doing such a wonderful job of arranging very fresh flowers that have lasted well.  He is the one who would provide much more than $10 worth of flowers when I came by to get them for Mary Ann.  I told him that I may be coming in on occasion to do the same, this time to enjoy myself and then remember.  I dropped glasses off at our eye doctor’s office for the Lion’s Club.  Looking at two of the four pairs was a frightening reminder of Mary Ann’s battle.  They were so scratched from falling on her face that the lenses were no longer usable.  We had had to replace them.

I guess I said it last night, but today it has been painfully clear that remembering her with so many abilities stolen from her is almost too much to bear.  When I think back to the challenges I had as a Caregiver, I can certainly remember the times I reached the limit of my ability to cope, but I remember with no feelings of distress. I don’t feel in any way sorry that I had to do the things that were required.  I would do it again without hesitation.  I have been trying to keep them out of my mind, the images of her sitting in that chair unable to do almost anything, trying to get up, falling, struggling to turn in bed, hating when I had to feed her.  My emotions are too raw to continue this train of thought.

The shade is now up on the back deck.  If the sun is out in the morning, the Spiritual Formation Group will get to try it out.  If rain comes, we can now sit inside the house in full view of the waterfall, listening to the rain on the speaker that brings in the outdoor sounds.  Since I am now alone here, there is no one to disturb.  Damn, I hate this!

Again, I am all right, given the circumstances.  It is very appropriate that I hate this and that my emotions are sometimes raw.  I would be in trouble if I didn’t recognize my feelings and allow them to see the light of day.  It is from that process that new life begins to emerge.  I also have moments of feeling the freedom that I have now that there are no longer the constant demands.  I am grateful that Mary Ann is whole again.  I would not want her back just so that I could feel better.  I just miss her.

If you want to write a comment about this or any of the posts on this blog, look to the column on the right side of this page, titled “Recent Posts,”  click on the name of a post and you will find a box at the end of that article in which you can write a comment.  Clicking on the title of the post you are reading will accomplish the same thing.  Comments are appreciated.

Someone came to the door yesterday afternoon asking if I knew where the next door neighbors had gone on their trip.  I didn’t know they were gone.  Then he explained what he had just found.  The back door was standing open and there were a dozen or so beer cans on the back patio.  The cans were unopened.

He explained that he had painted the cement patio on Friday and was checking to be sure that it was dry and to see if it needed a second coat.  The neighbors had been on a short trip to Texas.  Just days before their sump pump had stopped workings during a heavy rain storm.  Their basement was flooded.  For three days the cleaners were working, even one day while they were gone.

Today I found out that the thieves took the cash and jewelry.  They probably left in a hurry when the case of beer they decided to take apparently broke open on the patio as they were leaving.  The patio is no more than 25 feet from my bedroom window.  I heard nothing.  It is certainly unnerving.

It was death certificate day.  I picked them up at the funeral home.  We hardly need a piece of paper with a County Seal on it to tell us what has happened.  They will now be used to trigger a variety of transactions, most of which have no tangible impact other than keeping records straight on some computers somewhere.  There was not much available in the way of insurance since she was uninsurable due to the Parkinson’s Diagnosis twenty three years ago.  All the follow up tasks after a death at least have the side effect of keeping a person busy.

Today’s outing included taking Mary Ann’s clothing to the Rescue Mission thrift store. It needed to be done, but it was hard to do.  There was a sinking feeling as we helped unload them.  Other than a number of her well-worn favorites, the cookbooks went to the Friends of the Library to be sold in the annual book sale.  Mary Ann loved the library.  One of the professions that would have been satisfying to her was Librarian.  She loved old book stores, especially one in the Brookside area of Kansas City, Missouri.

On the way, I picked up from the repair shop the watch that my Mom had taken me out to buy near the end of my Senior Year in high school.   It is a Girard Perregaux for which she paid $85 in 1961.  The jeweler said that if a comparable could be found now it would be closer to$1500. It has a self-winding weight in it.  Still works. I don’t really care about the value.  It is not for sale.  It is for Son Micah to have.  I wear the gold watch my Dad received many decades ago when he retired.  It actually is of comparable value.  I guess old can be good sometimes.  That is good to hear.

Talking about “old,” I am now in contact with a classmate from the Second Grade, Miss Miller’s class.  That was a memorable year.  I got sick after eating a piece of peach pie.  Before it was over, my Dad plunked me down on the examination table at the doctor’s office and declared that I had appendicitis.  Dad had lost a 5 year old son to peritonitis on Christmas Eve, and almost lost another son when his appendix burst on the operating table.   He was not about to lose another son.  (The very oldest boy their first child had died shortly after birth.)  Sure enough, I ended up on the operating table having my inflamed appendix removed later that same day.

While in the hospital recuperating, it was discovered that I had Rheumatic Fever.  I missed the second half of the Second Grade year (four months).  Miss Miller spent the summer going over the school work I had missed so that I could go on to the next grade.  That diagnosis was a dominant part of my life until I graduated from high school.

On the way back from our errands, we made the promised stop at G’s for some frozen custard in memory of Grandma.  Not only were the treats as good as expected, one of my favorite young people from the congregation dished it up for us.  She is actually sort of annoying, she is a very good athlete, very smart, very pretty but not snooty about it, committed to helping others and making a difference for good, and she is a hopeless smart-aleck — all of that and sweet and caring too.  Talk about annoying.  She even admitted to reading this blog sometimes.  You know who you are!  Even after I became a Geezer I found myself enjoying the bits of contact I had with Youth in the congregation.  I spent the first 18 years of my ministry in service especially to Youth.

Someone just moved in two houses away.  She came over to introduce herself to a couple of us talking outside.  Soon there were four of us, two who had lost spouses two years ago.  As we were talking I soon realized that for the last many years, I would not have been able to stay and talk, but would have rushed into the house to check on Mary Ann.  It will be hard to get used to this new reality.

Today we stopped by church to get the list of gifts given to Faith in memory of Mary Ann.  I was surprised at how many gifts had come in.  I have started thinking about how what comes in should be used.  It would please Mary Ann very much to be able to provide that tangible evidence of appreciation of all the years of caring for her by so many Volunteers from Faith.

Early tomorrow is the time that Lisa and the girls leave on their way back home to Kentucky.  It is hard to imagine getting through these events without Lisa and Micah’s help and support.  Like it or not, tomorrow will be the first day by myself in the house.  It is a new reality — can’t go back.  Right now I am running on adrenalin. The crash has to come.  When it does, I will get through it.  The two who lost their spouses two years ago were emphatic about what is the hardest thing, the loneliness. No one can fix that, even by trying to keep the surviving spouse busy.  We just have to deal with it and survive it.

For now, the odiferous ants have arrived.  It is an annual invasion.  The Tero is out and they are gathering, eating it and, hopefully, taking it to the nest to kill more. Pest Controller Tom will be by tomorrow to do some more serious work on them.  Hopefully they will soon leave the premises. I am certainly not interested in their company, even if I do get lonely.

If you want to write a comment about this or any of the posts on this blog, look to the column on the right side of this page, titled “Recent Posts,”  click on the name of a post and you will find a box at the end of that article in which you can write a comment.  Clicking on the title of the post you are reading will accomplish the same thing.  Comments are appreciated.

I am not sure that I have sat down for more than a few minutes at a time since Mary Ann died.  (It is still so hard to say that.)  I realize that it is a way to hold the pain at bay.  The pain is still fresh and raw, so working constantly takes my mind off it.

We have gotten mountains of things done.  We have made it through all the clothes.  Those are ready for disposition.  We have been through all the drawers in her dresser.  I have no explanation for this, but yesterday we missed two of the drawers.  We thought we were done, but we still had two more to go through today.  The contents were very difficult, especially the jewelry.  There were many cheap digital watches.  We kept getting new ones in hopes that we would find one she would wear and could read.  There were countless scarves.

When Son Micah came this afternoon, he mentioned the pantry.  I was able to shed about 60% of what was in there and give it to the Kids.   I found another stash of crafts downstairs.  Chloe will get that.  Micah will take the hangers (a huge bag).

Then came some rearranging of furniture.  My chest of drawers ended up in the closet, since there are not very many clothes left in there.  The table by her chair with the computer screen that constantly showed pictures of the Grandchildren is now downstairs and the computer moved to a corner in the living room.

The house is not dramatically changed, but enough so that things won’t completely revolve around the empty chair.  I can’t avoid the reality that she is gone.  I need to embrace that reality.  That realization will create wave after wave of feelings triggered by things I have yet to discover as well as some of which I am very much aware.

The medical equipment will remain in the garage for at least another week. Tonight’s threatening rain storm changed the plan of putting it all in the open bed on Micah’s truck.  Hopefully that will leave the garage by next weekend.  That is the current plan.

Daughter Lisa will stay and help some tomorrow, perhaps staying until Tuesday morning.  We have lots of things to take to various places.  The death certificates should be ready by tomorrow afternoon.  They need to be sent to various people to get wheels turning on changing accounts designations.  Plans need to be put into place to try to reduce household expenditures by the amount of her Social Security.  The practical matters keep a focus of attention and energy during these first days.

This morning was the first Sunday worship service I have attended sincer Mary Ann’s departure.  It was the first time that I have sat in the pew at the mid-morning service since I retired two years ago.  I wasn’t sure how it would feel.  It actually went very well, in comparison to how it might have gone.  I felt very much at home and surrounded with people who had become almost family over the last fourteen years.  There were lots of hugs and words of concern and support.  All shared the assurance that Mary Ann is secure in the presence of the Lord.

A number of folks have, of course, served as Volunteers at our home over the years.  They know the ins and outs of what we have been through.  A number of folks have been reading these posts and through them have come to have an intimate knowledge of our journey, especially the last few weeks.  It felt good to talk with so many people and experience how many there are supporting our family.

One development I wish had come before Mary Ann died.  A choice of her estranged Brother had hurt her deeply, separating him and his family from us.  I was able to make a connection on Facebook to fulfill my promise to Mary Ann that the message of her forgiveness be relayed to him.  The response has helped reconnect his Wife, Mary Ann’s Sister-in-Law, and his Son, Mary Ann’s Nephew, with me.  I feel a relief on her behalf that there has been some healing at least with the family.  The interactions seem to enhance the sense of peace she has won.

The day I will come into the house with no one else here is approaching very quickly.  I have not sat down since her death to keep the pain at a manageable level. I hope I can continue that defense mechanism until I get some more cleaning done — my office, the downstairs office area now holding all my outdated financial records. I doubt it will last long enough to get the storage area cleaned up.

The plans that are beginning to emerge will include contact with others, not just constant solitude. That the return to church this morning went all right is a good sign.  There is still plenty of serious grieving yet to do. I do not intend to run away from it.  It will be the key to my survival and ultimate good health.

I plan to collect and list the suggested addresses for a blog with a new theme as this new life begins.  Please continue to make suggestions as they come to mind.

If you want to write a comment about this or any of the posts on this blog, look to the column on the right side of this page, titled “Recent Posts,”  click on the name of a post and you will find a box at the end of that article in which you can write a comment.  Clicking on the title of the post you are reading will accomplish the same thing.  Comments are appreciated.

I realize that Quilty is not a word, but in our house it is.  I suppose it should be referred to as a quilted jacket.  We called it the Quilty Jacket.  She wore it as often as the weather would allow in the last few years.  Then there are her Poo pants — as in Winnie, not poop.  They are pajama bottoms so worn, with numerous holes that one good tug would probably pull them apart in any number of places.

When I pulled the jacket out of the closet, I knew I could not part with it.  I can’t count how many times I helped her on with that jacket as we headed out the door.  The rest of the clothing is in plastic bags destined for the thrift store or the Rescue Mission.  It has been a very emotional day, at least on the inside.  Once, I sighed loudly while standing in an almost empty closet and from the bedroom came, “Are you okay?”  This had to be hard on Daughter Lisa too.  I would not have wanted to do it without her.

The challenge was not just the emotional part of it but the challenge of deciding what to do with what.  As others who have been in my position will confirm, decisions are very difficult to make.  The simplest task can seem overwhelming.

There were dresser drawers to clean out.  We finally found her underwear!  The funeral home asked for undergarments with the dress we were to bring over for them as they prepared her.  In her sock and underclothes drawer, we finally found a pair that she had never worn nor would she have done so.  I vaguely remembered getting them out of that drawer and putting them away when she switched to disposables a couple of years ago.  She had a huge number of socks in the drawer, resulting in the need for room.  Her socks were a signature item.  There were varied colors and themes, holiday socks, seasonal socks, polka-dots, animals.  We found the underwear in a plastic bag hanging from a hanger buried in between other hanging clothing.

I knew it would be and it is very hard to look in that closet.  I have spread out the few things I have on both sides to create the illusion that it is full.  It is not working. Actually, I decided to get rid of all things in the closet that no longer fit or are too badly worn to wear any longer.  Getting rid of my clothes was easy.  All I had to do was look at the neck size on the shirts to determine that I could no longer wear them.  Who knew that a neck could grow in later years.  It is an odd genetic quirk, having nothing to do with eating habits and the lack of exercise.  The waists on pairs of pants had shrunk.  Closets shrink clothes.  It is a known fact.  It is sort of like Radon, only not dangerous to people — unless, of course, you try too hard to button one of the shirts and strangle yourself.

I suspect that Monday some time will be the first encounter with the house all to myself, the beginning of whatever will come in life next.  The Kids are doing exactly what is needed and when.  They cannot do for me what I need to do to make it through this.  I cannot do for them what they need to do to get through this.  We can love and support one another, doing what is in our power to do.

I will get out the quilty jacket and remember and, I suspect, do some crying.  Tears do not come easily to me, but it will be important to allow that release when the need comes.  I have decided to get the box of letters Mary Ann saved from forty-eight years ago.  I have not looked at them since I wrote them.  I am sure I will be embarrassed by them.  I was so much in love with her that, if I remember correctly, I even wrote sappy poetry on occasion.  I am surprised she didn’t run away screaming after reading them.

I made an observation to Lisa today contrasting the time of caring for Mary Ann, especially the last months, with the time we are in now.  Oddly, it seems harder to think now about what we went through than it was to go through it.  Even when we were in the thick of the worst of it, I just had to do stuff.  Doing things gave me the feeling that I could make a difference of some sort.  Even if what I did seemed to have little effect, at least I had something I could do.  Now, I have the images of what we went through.  They seem more horrifying when thinking about them than they seemed when I was doing them.  When I was doing stuff, it was certainly hard, sometimes very messy, but I was just doing whatever needed to be done.

Grieving is hard work, harder than caregiving.  There is nothing more I can do for her.  I can only be sad for myself that she is not here.  I certainly do not need to be sad for her now that she is free from the illness.  I can hurt for what she went through, but I cannot change it.  My job now is to figure out what I can do.  I can live the life that I am being given.  I can make plans and do things that will honor her memory, care for my family, and become the most fulfilled and healthy person I can be with God’s help and the resources available to me.  I have absolutely no idea what those plans will emerge and where they will take me.  Whatever they are, they will have to take into account a household income that was diminished by about 40% when I retired, and another 20% now.  With a little creativity and a willingness to live simply, the plans will emerge.

I continue to welcome suggestions for a new blog address that will reflect what my life is about as the next months and years unfold.

If you want to write a comment about this or any of the posts on this blog, look to the column on the right side of this page, titled “Recent Posts,”  click on the name of a post and you will find a box at the end of that article in which you can write a comment.  Clicking on the title of the post you are reading will accomplish the same thing.  Comments are appreciated.

What Mary Ann left behind in terms of physical matter is nothing without her.  Today”s Committal service was another simple reminder that she is not here any longer in terms of having a living physical presence.  It seems as if from the very moment she left, my gut already found acceptance that her departure is a fact.  We were privileged and pained to share those last moments with her when finally release came. That was convincing enough.

There is nothing that can be said that can communicate the sadness I feel.  My sadness is no more or less than anyone else’s who feels sadness.  Comparing one person’s to another is of no value.  My sadness is mine.  Lisa’s is hers.  Micah’s is his.  Denis, Becky, the girls’ feelings are theirs.  All I can say is there is a depth to this sadness that is beyond anything I would wish on anyone.  Those of you who have lost someone you love are likely to have a sense of the nature of that sadness.

Again, I will be all right.  In fact, I am all right in that I am experiencing exactly what is needed at this moment to allow survival.  If I tried to stuff the feelings, it would hurt rather than help.  I have a right to these feelings.  How can there be love if there is no possibility of sadness or pain on account of it.

Niece Diana and Al left this afternoon to return to Northern Illinois, where she, my Sister Gayle, and Joy, one of Mary Ann’s three best friends, will plan a gathering for a bit of worship, some remembering and some food, probably some time in July.

Shortly thereafter, Son Micah and Becky along with Granddaughter Chloe returned to their home in the Kansas City area.  Unfortunately, the Jeep they were driving all but broke down with noises threatening to call the trip to a halt at any moment.  Transmission issues are suspected.  Micah was planning to come back tomorrow with the truck to remove the larger pieces of equipment we used to battle the consequences of the Parkinson’s.  Add to that the problem created by water from the last storm invading their basement.  Becky had made a quick trip back to do some cleanup, but time and hot weather has given the mold a chance to really make its presence known.  Adding insult to injury is not even adequate to describe what they are going through.

Sunday afternoon, Son-in-Law Denis will leave for a work-related trip.  The Kids are consciously being measured in the process of leaving me here by myself.  I have a list of things for Denis and Lisa to do in the next day or two.  Assuming transportation issues work themselves out, Micah will be back also for a while.  It will help to get things in order here.  Lisa and Becky have been going through the clothes.  They pulled out Mary Ann’s favorite T-shirts to make throws out of them for the girls.  We will get Mary Ann’s clothes to appropriate places where others can benefit from them.

When I talk about things like that, the words sound very matter-of-fact.  Behind them are all the emotions you might guess would be felt as her things leave the house. I recognize that I can’t keep her.  That is settled.  Dipping my toe into the cold water of being without her a little bit at a time would only multiply the pain and extend it endlessly.

What I want to do now is remember.  Watching the online Tribute Video prepared by the funeral home (penwellgabeltopeka.com) is a very moving experience for me.  When I see Mary Ann sitting on the fender of the 1958 Chevy Impala, she takes my breath away.  I remember hardly being able to believe that she was going out with me.  I see the smile in those pictures that was rarely seen in her last years.  I want to remember the laughter and silliness, the arguments, the great times and the times staying married was very hard work. Forty-four years of marriage does not happen by accident.  Storybook romances are for storybooks and movies and popular songs.  I was crazy in love with her, but we irritated the hell out of each other at times.  The promises we made to one another in front of that Altar were absolutely serious.  They meant something.  Keeping our promises to one another emerged from our love and gave it nourishment so that it could grow.

As soon as the Kids have done what they need to do to help themselves and me take some steps forward in the transition, I will have time to do some grieving that I need to do by myself.

Last night did not include the sleep I had hoped it would since the very unpleasant esophageal spasms decided to spend the night and morning with me.  That problem emerges periodically and without warning or explanation as to why it comes at any particular moment in time.  After that was done, the day went well, given it is the day that we laid to rest the remains of my beloved wife.

After the committal, Son Micah treated us to a meal at Olive Garden.  John and Cynthia brought over a hot pot roast, potatoes and carrots along with side dishes and dessert for supper.  What a treat that was.  We are really getting spoiled in that regard.  Legendary cookie maker Lori left on our front steps two large containers of chocolate chip cookies, one batch without nuts for the kids.  Linda came by with a box of ice cream bars for the little ones (and the big ones) along with bags of homemade very good tasting chocolate chip cookies (we checked) in containers ready for the freezer.

Even receiving gifts of great food and wonderful desserts, have I told you yet how much I don’t like this?

I have been thinking more about whether or not to continue writing posts.  I don’t know yet for sure what I will do, but I think the need to write, if only to maintain my own equilibrium, will continue.  I have ceased to be a caregiver.  Other than reflecting on the years with Mary Ann, which I will continue to do for a time, I am thinking of starting a blog with a new address, still on WordPress if possible.  I am looking for a new address or url. Since I am starting a new life pretty much from scratch, any suggestions for a name to replace “thecaregivercalling.com would be welcomed.

Mary Ann would have liked it had she been sitting with me.  The music was powerful, to her liking.  The sermon was centered on our hope and the certain promise that is the only thing that frees us to face the struggles, lament the losses, and come out alive and well.

It would have pleased Mary Ann to have Niece Diana and husband Al sitting with us. Diana, who simply does not fly no matter what, flew here to honor her Aunt Mary Ann.  Diana was the only one of our two families who was invited to stand up with us at our wedding.  They have always had a special relationship.

Our blood relatives were expanded by our adopted brothers and sisters from Kansas City, three remarkable people who had special roles with the Volunteers (by now totaling at least 70-80 over the years), members of the Spiritual Formation Group that has been a source of strength for the last 8-9 years.

Lot’s of our family and close friends who could not make such a long trip from Northern Illinois on such short notice will have an opportunity in the near future when a date is set to gather there for an event to celebrate and remember Mary Ann. It will include a short worship segment to help clarify just what has happened here and the hope that sustains us.  There will also be food to sustain us.

Have I told you yet that I really don’t like this.  I just thought I would mention it, in case you were unaware of it.

I suppose there were a couple of hundred people who attended the funeral today. What a testimony to the lives that Mary Ann has touched.  As Lutherans are wont to do, they sang loudly, filling that room with the declaration that in the face of death life has won again.  There were instrumentalists, one whose Father is thirty-two years into Parkinson’s, another who lost a Mother and a Sister to forms of Alzheimer’s. The full organ lifted our spirits.  If there were 200 people there, there were pretty close to 200 hugs that helped me and the Kids.

The vocalists included Carol, who has sung for decades and directed the choir here for many years before I arrived.  Her “Now the Green Blade Rises” burrowed into me as I began to feel the significance of the central message of the service.  Kristen’s “Consecration” took the breath away from every one of us in that room. It was done to honor all those who ministered to Mary Ann as Volunteers. I knew Mary Ann would have been especially pleased when Kristen sang “Laudatus Dominum” by Mozart.  It was certainly not possible for me to keep my composure when she sang.  I needed that release.  It was so meaningful that Kristen took time to fly in from Boston to sing. There is no one at any level whose voice is more beautiful than hers.

The readings and the words of Pastor Jim and Pastor Mike drew us to the One in whom we trust, the only One who has the power to make a difference at a time like this.  They celebrated the faith of Mary Ann who has a joyful and secure future that we would not presume to describe but to which we look forward as we journey on after death has done its worst.

Last night was a fairly restful one other than the early declarations of a wayward blackberry that decided 5:45am would be a good time to start the day.  It only took one roll back and forth under the tires of the van to solve that problem.  (Only kidding, Denis.)

I was, of course, very restless this morning, pacing back and forth.  I connected with PT’s Coffee to be sure all was well for a delivery for the dinner after the service.  I had made clear that I was not asking for a favor but would pay for that treat.  When the Kids went to pay for it, Co-owner and friend Jeff would take no payment.  A number of folks confirmed that the coffee was great.

The waterfall stopped again this afternoon, but it was only a GFI outlet.  We don’t know why it popped, but we hope it doesn’t do it again.  Brad, who built the pondless waterfall, came by almost immediately to determine the problem.

Tomorrow brings even more finality to this leg of life’s journey.  There will be a very short committal service at the grave side late in the morning.  It is called an Inurnment since there will be ashes (cremains) in an urn to be buried.  Again, since Mary Ann has already gone on her way, it is simply the period at the end of the sentence.  I don’t really know how that will feel.  Today’s service was very moving especially with the powerful music. Tomorrow’s includes a few short readings and spoken words only.

The Kids have chosen not all to leave at the same time so that I will be eased into a full encounter with the empty house.  I have lots of grieving to do.  I will need time alone to do some of it.  Just as I did during the years with Mary Ann, I plan to experience fully this leg of the journey.  I am convinced that embracing whatever is going on is the best way to get through it and on to what comes next.  If I try to short-circuit the process, avoid the pain at all cost, I will be left to carry the baggage of unfinished business.  If I do that, it will most certainly catch up at some time.  I do not want to wallow in it, nor do I want to waste the pain. I want to feel it and learn from it. That will be a lasting gift to me from Mary Ann and a way for me to honor who she has been during her time here with me.  Doing the work will allow me to get on with the life I am being given unencumbered by regrets and denial.

By the way, have I told you yet that I really don’t like this.  I just thought I would mention it, in case you didn’t remember.

It is time to sleep.

If you want to write a comment about this or any of the posts on this blog, look to the column on the right side of this page, titled “Recent Posts,”  click on the name of a post and you will find a box at the end of that article in which you can write a comment.  Clicking on the title of the post you are reading will accomplish the same thing.  Comments are appreciated.

I had my own little package of Kleenexes in my pocket; there were plenty around the room.  We didn’t need them.  They had done a nice job of fixing her up, but her face did not really look like her.  I was pleased.  We had all been there when she left, so the private viewing at the funeral home only confirmed that she was already gone.

We are not done with the tears — by no means is that part of this over.  The tears will come tomorrow when we gather to confront the impact of her loss and at the same time celebrate what in our Spiritual Tradition (Christian of the Lutheran variety) we believe to be a victory.  We understand death to be a real and painful loss for us and a profound victory over death.  The Parkinson’s and Parkinson’s Dementia have done their worst and lost the war.  We still have to work through all the grief that comes with such a loss, just not complicated by a sense of defeat and concern for the one who has died. My mantra has been, “She is fine. We are not.”

This afternoon, there was a time when all the rest of the family was away from the house when I walked in.  As far as I know, except for two or three times when I stopped by to pick something up while she was at her Tuesday Morning Bible Study, that is the first time in the last two years I have walked into the house without Mary Ann being here.  Actually, in the last eight or ten years, I don’t remember that happening for more than a moment to pick up something at the house while she was with someone else in another place. It struck me pretty powerfully.  It was not long before some of the family returned, but it was long enough to determine that I don’t like it.  Have I mentioned before that I don’t like this?

There is nothing anyone else can do about it.  The last thing I want is for people to try to insulate me from the reality of what is going on.  I need to experience it and get used to it.  Any who read this who happen to have lost someone and returned home to live in an empty house understand full well that we have to learn how to accept and come to terms with that new reality.

Tonight we spent over two hours greeting people who came by the funeral home to show their support for our family.  It was pretty much hugs all around.  There were many words of comfort.  There were many who offered to help in any way they could, inviting me to call or come by, threatening to pester me with their care.  They actually meant it.  I know these people.  They meant it.   For a while, I will need to hang back and get my bearings, but it is nice to know that to the degree I am willing to be assertive, I will not need to stay home alone unless I want to.  I like solitude, but I will need to find a balance between solitude and community to remain healthy.

I now know why when talking with people who have lost a spouse sometimes they get a catch in their throat when they talk about the last moments of their Loved One’s life if they were there — even if the death came years earlier.  Images of those last moments elicit great pangs of pain.  I doubt that the capacity to feel those pangs will leave very soon if ever.  I cherish those moments only to confirm for me that it is good that she let go, that she is no longer enduring the indignity of those last hours.  It frees me not to fight the acceptance, somehow wishing her back here.

We are all very tired now. It is time to try to get some rest.  I slept better last night — a very good thing.  Tomorrow will be a day to begin the healing in earnest.

If you want to write a comment about this or any of the posts on this blog, look to the column on the right side of this page, titled “Recent Posts,”  click on the name of a post and you will find a box at the end of that article in which you can write a comment.  Clicking on the title of the post you are reading will accomplish the same thing.  Comments are appreciated.

I just couldn’t stop and go to bed.  I needed, I NEEDED, to empty the bedroom of everything I could find that reminded me of what we have been through with the Parkinson’s .  Gratefully, the Hospice folks had taken all the medicine bottles and the items they brought that were of no further use to us now that Mary Ann is free of the damned disease.  It did its worst, and she still won.  She has let go of it so that it has no power over her any longer.  She has a life that is as free as a butterfly, a favorite image of hers, especially in the early years.

I am not about to let the Parkinson’s Disease and the Parkinson’s Disease Dementia (a Dementia with Lewy Bodies) remain the dominant feature of our lives any more.  Pretending it never happened would be silly and deny who we became as we faced it down and refused to let it steal from us meaning and joy and fulfillment.  With that said, I don’t have to allow it to come along any longer on my journey, just as she no longer has its company in her new life.

For both of us, we now are living life after Parkinson’s.  I stripped the bed and put on fresh bedding.  At this point, I don’t even remember all the things I threw away — nothing that needed to be kept any longer.  Finally, I went to bed.  It was a fitful sleep, up a couple of times, now for no good reason.  This morning beginning at about 4:30am, my mind started working.  Every time I thought of something that I needed to do, I got up headed down the hall to my office, wrote it down and came back to bed.  I did that four or five times between then and a little before 7am.

Today has included lots of tasks.  Throughout the day, I have been reading comments on this blog and on Facebook that have provided comfort and the recognition that we are not going through this alone.  We have welcomed more food and enjoyed eating part or most of much of it, while freezing for later what we cannot consume now.  There are some really fine cooks in our circle of support.  I was able to get a much needed freely given haircut from friend and former parishioner Doug this afternoon.  Marikay’s Volunteering with Mary Ann was doing her hair there at their shop.

Son Micah wrote the obituary for us this morning so that we could take it with us to meet with Pat the Funeral Director working with us.  As I mentioned in last night’s post we were treated more like friends than clients as we went through all the necessary steps.  Having made the arrangements in advance seven years ago, it was a relatively painless process.  It still took a couple of hours to go through all the paperwork that is required.  The web site with Mary Ann’s obituary is http://www.penwellgabeltopeka.com.  Enter Mary Ann Tremain in the search box and then when her name comes up, click on her name to see the obituary.  I think the link we provided on Facebook will take you right to it in one step. Having done the pre-need plan at the cemetery, that visit was only a few minutes.

We stopped at church for a while.  The Staff there was a sort of family for the over twelve years I served there.  They listened as I shared the daily struggles.  They provided a wonderful, nurturing community.  We dropped off what has turned out to be an elegantly done, indescribably beautiful book mark that will serve as a thank you to those who have volunteered in any way to help Mary Ann over the years.

The main reason for stopping at the church was to talk about the music with Young, the Director of Worship and the Organist.  She led us to the balcony and sat down at the console to play some of what she will use as processional and recessional music as well as a hymn prelude and accompaniment.  I have absolutely no defense mechanisms capable of deflecting the power of a full organ playing music that simply soars heavenward.  It is not sweet and gentle or somber and sad.  It is energizing and thrilling and victorious.  I simply melted.  Each time she stopped and asked if that was all right, I could only nod, yes.  I could not talk.  I am in real trouble as far as trying to keep my composure on Thursday is concerned.

Later in the afternoon, I was by myself with some time to fill between the cemetery trip and the haircut.  I stopped at Lowe’s to look for some much needed deck chairs and a hose caddy.  I wandered into Barnes and Noble just to spend time before going for the haircut.  I got scared, especially when I walked around Barnes and Noble.  Everything that has given me purpose for my lifetime up to now has ended.  I have completed a career, I am done living with and caring for Mary Ann.  She is even what I have written about, her care the content of the blog.  I got scared about what I will do when the funeral and memorial up north are over, the house is in order and the thank you cards written.  Will I be wandering about aimlessly, a pathetic old man with no where to go and nothing to do.  It just scared me for a moment.

With that said, I will be fine.  Very many other people who lose a spouse after retiring have exactly the same problem.  “What do I do now?”  Gratefully, there will be time to think about that later.  Right now, there is a lot that will be going on in the next couple of weeks.

When I returned home after the haircut, Son Micah had orchestrated the removal of some of the bigger items in the house because of the Parkinson’s. I had shared with him earlier my need to rid the place of all the signs that it was ever present.  They took up the protective mesh from the ceramic tile floor in the bathroom.  We put it down after Mary Ann did some real damage in a fall.  They took up the matting for the same purpose in the garage.  The rolling shower chair, the wheel chair in the car, the support handles around the toilet stools were all removed to the garage for the moment.

Yes, part of it is that I need time to forget the horrible sight of Mary Ann suffering so much at the end.  I need not to remain immersed in remembering and focusing on the caregiving tasks of the last decade.  I need to remember Mary Ann, the person, “a force to be reckoned with” someone said, and a wonderful, exciting life’s partner.  Yes, we have been shaped by responding to the challenge; we have grown.  At the same time, we are far more than the disease.  I want to remember the “more.”

Now that she is gone, I have nothing to write about.  While I try to decide whether to just stop writing, I will describe and reflect on what is going on during these first  transitional days.  I will write a post or two on the beginnings and development of our life together.  There is a huge hole filled with pain right now.  I need to remember, reconstruct the memory of that life, lift the fog of the Parkinson’s so that the wonder of it will reappear.  I expect what I write to be boring and self-serving, but that is just the way it is.  I started writing these posts each night to find the perspective I needed to survive, to make some sense out of something that makes no sense.  I hoped they would help anyone in similar circumstances who happened upon the blog.  I have been blown away by how many have become a part of our journey in the past couple of years and especially the past few weeks.

As little as I could predict about what we would encounter day by day as we fought the Parkinson’s and the Dementia, I know even less now about what will come next.  Mary Ann is experiencing a spectacular new beginning beyond our knowing.  I am also experiencing a new beginning.  As cliche as it is to say it, today actually is the first day in the rest of my life. So far I am not liking it very well, but given time, that will change.

Plans are now final.  The Mary Ann’s funeral will be at 11:30am on Thursday at the church with a visitation at the funeral home tomorrow evening from 6pm to 8pm.  She will lie in state there from 2pm on tomorrow.  We will have private family time with her at noon. She will lie in state at church an hour before the funeral.  There will be a meal afterward at church to which we hope as many as can attend will come.  On Friday we will have a very short inurnment service with mostly family at the graveside.

If you want to write a comment about this or any of the posts on this blog, look to the column on the right side of this page, titled “Recent Posts,”  click on the name of a post and you will find a box at the end of that article in which you can write a comment.  Clicking on the title of the post you are reading will accomplish the same thing.  Comments are appreciated.

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