I kept moving to be sure there was no confusion about my still being alive.  I did not want to be mistaken for road kill.  At first I saw them off in the distance sitting on the newly mown field next to me as I walked the path at Cedarcrest.  I thought they were regular wild turkeys.  Then I saw them take off.  They were Turkey Vultures.

On the wing, Turkey Vultures are elegant birds.  Their wingspan is almost that of an American Bald Eagle.  When the sun hits them a certain way, the feathers on their wings seem translucent.  They float effortlessly, wings in a V shape, circling and soaring. Once a couple of years ago, one came over me so closely that I could hear the swish of its wings.  As long as a person is far enough away that he/she cannot see the ugly heads, they appear beautiful.

It was very impressive to see so many in the air at the same time.  Later in the walk, a Green Heron landed on a nearly pier as I passed one of the large ponds there.  The morning walk continues to be helpful.  At the moment, I think I actually need it to help keep my healing on course.

Wednesday morning (today is Friday) had been a good one since the Spiritual Formation group continues to provide a rich environment for processing what has gone on or is now going on in our lives in a way that reveals God’s hand, loving and supporting us.   There was a lunch with a good friend including some great conversation, very refreshing.

The afternoon included the second day of exercising.  The muscles that were getting sore, were worked enough to help relieve the discomfort for the moment. Then I headed to the mall to try to get a gift for Granddaughter Ashlyn’s upcoming birthday. I ended up walking the circumference of the mall on both levels, probably adding up to almost as much distance as I do in the morning.  I decided to try to add a mall walk on the hot afternoons.

I ended up at a couple of other places to get the gift.  Even with all that activity, the pain of Mary Ann’s death emerged, staying with me the rest of the day.  Oddly, yesterday a neighbor who lost her husband a couple of years ago, called to see how I was doing and revealed that she had had a bad day on Wednesday also.  Must be something in the air.

Yesterday was some better.  The walk in the morning was followed by a visit from a member and his daughter.  Ed is helping with a bit a caulk repair in the bathroom. They were both fun to talk with.  Later in the day a former member had asked me to to help her process something, a role that feels comfortable for me after so many years in the ministry.  That also was an enjoyable time.

I went directly to the third different support group meeting this week.  While there is a little overlap, they are all different groups.  It is remarkable just how helpful it is to be in a setting in which there is complete understanding and the freedom to laugh or cry without hesitance.  Talking so freely there makes it easier not to talk about the loss with others who will soon tire of hearing about how much it hurts.

The groups also help temper the fears that the pain is still so strong and hasn’t let go yet. It is apparent that those who have experienced a death as recently as have I are struggling at least as much as am I.  Those for whom the death was a couple of years ago, still have access to the pain, but they are not disabled by it.  They are able to enjoy life again.  The groups provide a helpful perspective.

After spending some time with vultures this morning, I got some more organizing done at the house.  I decided to buy flowers in memory of Mary Ann and for myself. I did as I had done before when getting them for her.  I asked the folks at Flowers by Bill for ten dollars worth of colorful flowers.  I was given a large bouquet with varied colors, from pastels to deep, dark colors to bright and cheery colors.  That bouquet now adorns the dining room table.

There was another walk at the mall.  After that I went home and read a very small book called Good Grief by Granger Westberg.  Daughter Lisa had asked about it in a phone call.  She saw it on a Hospice list of recommended books.  That little book was very helpful since it nailed very many of the struggles I have been having and named them as stages in the process.  They are different from the stages of grief traditionally listed.  The book confirmed that feeling each stage fully is a way to get through the grief, incorporating it into the new person who is emerging.  Not everyone will, of course, grieve in exactly the same way, but what he described seems to be the most common experience.

The evening ended with a very enjoyable dinner out with former parishioners.  We came back to the house and talked for a while about a variety of things.  I felt almost healthy again.

A couple of days ago, as I was making one of the rounds in the mall, something very obvious found its way into my awareness.  While Mary Ann has died, I have not.  It doesn’t seem fair that I should be alive and she is not.  Fair or not, it is so.  I am actually alive.  I do not need to feel guilty about that or apologize for it.  I am free to go on with life.  Recognizing that does not make it easy, just possible.

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The old roller coaster was named “Living with Parkinson’s.”  This one is named “Living with Grief.”  I was too tired and grumpy last night to write a post.  The new roller coaster ride took a dip last night and earlier today.  I think it is past the bottom of this dip and on its way back up.

Yesterday began with an early walk at Cedarcrest.  That always seems to get the day off to a good start.  There were moments of the video of recent events, but they passed quickly.

Then I spent an exhilarating hour or so at the local Farmer’s Market.  It is a bustle of activity.  The moment I entered the area, I heard a “Pastor Pete!”  It was a couple of sisters who had been members of my former congregation for a time and who are back in town.  They are young folks who have learning issues, and have just returned to town to a environment served by their former Foster Parents (if I understood correctly).

There were fresh vegetables everywhere, zucchini, tomatoes (hooray!), new potatoes, freshly picked cabbage (no worms), blueberries.  That is just what I bought.  There was about anything a person could want.  I bought a loaf of herb bread that has turned out to be very tasty. Then there was the PT’s coffee at their booth.  Pleasant conversation there.

I had an enjoyable conversation with the fellow who grew the tomatoes.  He told me in detail how he went about starting the seed and growing the plants.  That is the sort of conversation I find very entertaining.  I talked at length to another vendor selling outdoor furniture he had made — about how he finishes it.  He had had a stroke and was in a wheel chair.

There were some neighbors, more former parishioners/friends.  Don told me what he was going to do with the Jalapeños — sun-pickled if I understood correctly, an intriguing process.  One of the booths was run by a former parishioner.

Then just as I was leaving, I ran into Charlotte, who had stayed with Mary Ann in earlier years.  She lost her husband to Alzheimer’s about nine months ago.  We had touched base a few times during our parallel journeys.  It was very therapeutic to talk about the grief we have both experience, mine, of course, very fresh.  She is a Nurse and has dealt with many who struggled with issues such as ours.  I suppose some of the reason that I appreciated that conversation was that both of us have the same understanding of the grieving process.  Neither of us wants to wallow in it, but we both recognize that we need to embrace it when it comes, give it its due and not try to run away from it.

I was reveling in all the social interaction and the conversations, but I had a date in KC with Son Micah and crew, so I headed on.  Micah and Granddaughter Chloe (Daughter-in-Law Becky had an appointment) took me to a wonderful local dive in the bottoms of Kansas City, among old brick buildings and architectural salvage places, surrounded by so much construction we had to use and alley to get there.  The breakfast was out of the ordinary, Italian sausage, Italian bread toasted, perfectly cooked over easy fried eggs with tasty salsa, and crispy hashed brown potatoes.  If I can ever find it again, I will eat there when next I get the chance.

Next we went shopping for some accessories to my new laptop.  That part was good, the parking lot was not.  We were both backing out at exactly the same time directly behind one another.  The bump could barely be felt, but the entire wrap around fiberglass bumper will need to be replaced.  Arrrrgh! I am grateful for Collision Insurance and a relatively low deductible.  Oh well, in the grand scheme of things it is wonderfully minor.

We spent some time at Micah/Becky’s.  I now have Skype on my new laptop.  I hope I can manage to Skype my Granddaughters in Kentucky!  After that we went together to Mass (yes a good Lutheran can go to church in other brands).  I appreciate a liturgical service that is well done.  The new priest is a good preacher, who could probably pass for a Lutheran.  As Communion was proceeding, I saw two ladies, one in a wheel chair, the other pushing it, waiting to participate.  It is interesting how quickly a sight or sound or smell can trigger the grief that lives in a person’s gut after experiencing the loss of someone very close.  The feelings were not overwhelming, but fully present.

After that I headed to a birthday party for a KC friend.  We had a tasty meal in a pleasant new little area in South Johnson County.

It was a long day and by the time it was done, the roller coaster had sunk to a low dip.  Then and this morning, the loneliness was palpable.  I slept very late, since I was so tired.  I knew today that I did not want to be sociable.  I just needed to feel sorry for myself for a while and face the reality that I will need to do this on my own.  No one, no matter how well-intentioned can do it for me.  That is something Charlotte and I also agree on.  I cannot reclaim a past that exists now only in memories.  I still don’t like it!

If I were counseling myself, I would say with firmness, “It’s only been a month!”

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Everywhere we looked, there were Moms with large bellies growing.   Mary Ann felt right at home.  It could not have been the water.  She had come from Ft. Wayne already pregnant.  Whatever it was, the babies popped out one after another, mostly boys.  The day before Micah was born, we had just come from the doctor’s office.  He said that she was already dilated some and would have the baby any time.  I was driving toward home, when to my horror, the engine stopped running.  We had run out of gas.  I don’t remember what Mary Ann said, but some things are better not to know.   Micah arrived the next day, September 7.   I have to admit that I was mightily irritated when I was told that I would have to leave now and go to the waiting room — and awful place with magazines from the 50’s.  I had been in the Delivery room when Lisa was born.  At Research Hospital, the rules changed concerning that issue two weeks after Micah was born.  I can remember taking Lisa with me to the street outside the hospital so that she could wave to her Mom.  She was a little over three years old at the time.  Mary Ann often lamented the timing of having both kids in the heat of summer in hot climates.  It just dawned on me, she may have been blaming me for that!

Then there was the house.  We looked mostly on the Kansas side, in Johnson County, since that was where the church was located.  After a while, nothing seemed to ring our chimes.  There was one possibility, but it was a little over the range that had been suggested to us based on my salary.  Then the realtor said, “We can look at the old house on the Missouri side.” 

Understand that the Missouri side meant a school system that had a typically bad reputation for quality as a city school district.  The Missouri side was more varied racially.  Johnson County was much less varied ethnically.   Both of us appreciated the older feel and ethnic variety of the Missouri side, but mostly, we just fell in love with the house the first time we saw it.   We bought it in 1972 for $22,500.

We had both grown up in older homes.  The “Old House” as she called it, was a two story shake sided house built in 1926.  The developer built to match the topography, leaving trees, curving streets around the hill.  The trees were all tall and stately.  There was a large bed of irises in full bloom.  The lilac bush was hanging with heavy clusters of blossoms filling the air with their scent.  There was the largest pussy willow bush/tree I have ever seen.  There was a spectacular Silver Weeping Birch in the front yard.  Each house in the neighborhood differed from the rest. 

There was a 25 foot long living room with a fire place — french doors to a side porch.  The dining room had a huge hand painted scene that blended with the wallpaper.  It was just an outline and was muted enough not to be distracting.  The Master bedroom was 18 feet long.  with a full bath and walk-in closet.  There were two other bedrooms, much smaller.  The house had a second full bath upstairs and a half bath in the breakfast room downstairs.  The kitchen was quaint, but there was barely room for the fridge.  There was a detached garage with a basketball hoop on the front of it.  Mary Ann loved that there was a basketball hoop out there.   There was something about being able to shoot hoops that she liked. 

The old stone basement had a little water in it at times, but it was no major problem.  There were some very entertaining camel back or cave crickets in the basement.  The house was solid as a rock.  It had shifted as much as it was going to shift decades earlier.  The plaster in a couple of ceilings was in bad shape, but both were repaired for about a hundred dollars.

Early on we remodeled the kitchen just a little, taking the wall to the breakfast room out, putting in sliding glass doors and adding a deck.  Those changes allowed much more space in the kitchen area.  We removed five layers of wallpaper from the walls, patched and sanded.  The walls were in almost perfect shape.  We heard about a fellow who would refinish wood floors.  We tore up the wall to wall carpets and found a beautiful white oak floor with red oak stairs. 

We enclosed the side porch into a multipurpose space.  A parishioner who was very skilled as a carpenter did much of the work, trading labor with me.  Dick did the carpentry for me and I helped him on his Mother’s farm.  At that time his labor would have been $16 an hour, and farm hand more like $3 an hour labor.  It sounds like a good deal at first glance.  Have you ever put up hay in 94 degree weather?  If you have, you know whereof I speak.  I almost died!  Well, maybe not quite that bad. 

Mary Ann made curtains and always had an eye for color.  The house was wonderful.  We felt very much at home there.  Mary Ann put in a little garden near the garage and used branches from the pussy willow for stakes at the ends of the rows.  The garden did not do well, the stakes thrived.  We had little pussy willows growing at the end of each row.   There was a tiny oak tree sapling that sprouted in that garden a few feet from the garage.  Mary Ann refused to let me pull it out.  I carefully explained that it was too close to the garage.  We drove by that house a couple of years ago.  In the intervening thirty some years it has grown into a tall and perfectly shaped oak tree.  The Silver Maple saplings we planted in the front yard had grown from the seeds of the neighbor’s tree.  When we went by that same time, they were huge trees.  The Monkey Grass we brought from Ron and June’s front yard in Memphis decades ago is still covering the terrace. 

I remember Jack, next door.  He was a Great Dane who was so tall that when he got curious and jumped up, his head would be above the top of the six foot privacy fence.  When he went back down the air would catch his ears and they would fly up, looking very silly.  Of course, I fed the birds and squirrels there just as I do now.  If I dared to sit out on the deck too long, interfering with the squirrels eating the olives from the Russian olive tree, one of the squirrels would find a branch right over my head and drop squirrel turds on me.  His aim was remarkable.  We had brought ferns and Jack-in-the-pulpit and wild phlox plants from my folk’s place in the country in Northern Illinois and planted them on the north side of the house in the back yard.  They thrived there for all fifteen years. 

Near the end of the fifteen years there, Mary Ann and I spent three weeks painting the outside of that shake sided house.  We scraped, primed, put on two coats of paint in three colors on that two story house.  Mary Ann did the lower story and I did the upper story.  I also scraped, primed and painted the 22 windows (all 6 panes over one). 

I thought I would tell the story of that house in one post before going on to our lives during that time.  By the way, that house for which we paid $22,500 in 1972 was on the market in 2007 or 8, listing for $310,000 — location, location, location.  

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Plans are in place.  There will first be a memorial service at 11am on Saturday, July 10, in the Krentz Chapel at Our Savior Lutheran church, 420 Downer Place in Aurora.  The street in front is being repaired.  At the back of the church, accessed from the street that runs behind the church (parallel to Downer) is parking.  There are many stairs to the chapel from the back parking.  Those who cannot do stairs should be dropped off at the front of the church and park in back.  I am sure we can find folks who would be willing to park the car for you if need be.

Following the service, we will drive to Reuland’s to eat (serving begins at noon) and share Mary Ann stories.  I hope everyone will come to that meal and sharing time.  Let Gayle Marshall, Diana Zajicek or Joy Miller Kratsch know that you plan to come to Reuland’s.  If you don’t know one of those three, just let me know via Face Book or the Comment section of this blog that you are coming. It would please Mary Ann and will please me for you to come.  The address of Reuland’s is: 115 Oak Avenue, Aurora, IL 60506.

Krentz Chapel is named in memory of Pastor Paul Krentz.  Pastor Krentz Baptized  us as infants and Confirmed both Mary Ann and me around the age of fourteen.  Pastor Paul and Ruth Krentz were Mary Ann’s Godparents.  Pastor Krentz married Mary Ann and me.  He ordained me into the ministry. I am named after his Son Pete Krentz.  The chapel is located within feet of the chancel in which all those ceremonies were held.

I will bring the DVD of aobut 40 pictures of Mary Ann over the years to be shown at Reuland’s.  Tonight I realized that one of the tracks on the CD of the funeral here contains all three of the solos that were sung.  I listened to that section of the service with two of the readings and the solos.  The tears came.  This morning, I felt so good as to think I had turned a corner in the grieving.  I may have turned a corner, but there were tears to be found around that corner.

I will also bring that CD so that we can hear the solos in the service.  Two of the solos are sung by Kristen Watson who grew up in the congregation I served before I retired.  She has a blossoming career, singing in a variety of venues, including serving as a soloist on occasion for the Boston Pops.  She has a classical lyric soprano voice, but is very versatile, able to perform in musicals as well.  I have not heard a more beautiful soprano voice.

I just realized something a few minutes ago.  I preached at the funeral of Mary Ann’s Brother Roger.  I preached at the funeral of Mary Ann’s Brother Tom.  I preached at the memorial service held in Aurora for Mary Ann’s Mom, Lois.  Now I am leading Mary Ann’s Memorial Service.  Yesterday I looked at the picture taken at our wedding of Mary Ann and me in a line with both our sets of parents.  I remember when that picture was given to my Mom at her 90th birthday party.  She cried, realizing that she was the only one left of the four parents in that picture.  I preached at my Mom’s funeral.  It hit me that I am now the only one left of all six people in that picture.  I Have I mentioned yet that I don’t like this?

I had a great morning today.  The Spiritual Formation Group met on the deck in perfect weather, with the birds entertaining us and the sound of the waterfall calming us.  The conversation was helpful to me at this point in my Spiritual journey.  I walked at Cedarcrest, feeling energized by the exercise and exhilirated by the setting.  I enjoyed a lunch with a good friend who brings both wisdom and a listening ear to our time together.  I enjoyed an afternoon coffee time with a former parishioner who gave me some food for thought.

Two or three times today I mentioned that it seemed as if in the last two days I had turned a corner in the grieving process to a place in which the pain had become more manageable, had found a place that freed me to be okay again.  Every time I said it, I qualified it with the observation that the pain could come back at any time without warning.  That observation was prophetic.  I could feel it creeping back into my conscious awareness as the afternoon wore on.  By this evening, it broke through.  It is far from the intensity of last Sunday.  I am grateful for that.  The tears and this writing have allowed it to calm for the moment.

I intend to write more tonight on the story of Mary Ann’s and my life together, so I will end this now and get to the next chapter in that story.  Tomorrow morning very early, Pastor Jim and I will spend a couple of hours doing some birding in the area.  I had better start of the next post so that I can get to bed soon.

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.

No, this will not be one of those “too much information” posts.

That first year at the Seminary, I was singing in a very good choir made up of students from the Seminary and singers from some of the Lutheran churches in St. Louis.  There were probably sixty or a hundred Lutheran churches in St. Louis at that time.  A radio station in Holland had tried to get St. Olaf’s choir to come for a Heinrich Schuetz festival there.  Somehow, they got hold of a tape of our choir and offered to pay us 30.000 Guilder to come to their radio station studio to sing and make recordings.

Mary Ann was not singing in the choir.  She had started working full time at a bank so that we could continue to survive while I went to school.  I continued to work part time during the school year and full time during the summer at Clark-Peeper Office Supplies in Clayton.  Even with the promised 30,000 guilder covering a portion of the cost of the trip, each of us had to pay a portion also.  I don’t remember how much.  I do remember that we could take non-member spouses along for about $750.

We knew we might never get a chance like that again.  We had enough savings in the bank to cover the cost for me and for her, enough for a little spending money on the trip, leaving $100 in the bank for when we returned.  That would be enough to pay the next month’s rent, with nothing left over.  Mary Ann’s bank said that they would not have a job waiting for her when we returned.  We decided to do it!

We flew to Washington, D.C. and on to London.  We spent four days there, visiting cathedrals, riding the Underground (subway).  We sang at King’s College Chapel in Cambridge.  The trip there was harrowing.  The tour bus driver was nuts!  Of course he was driving on the wrong side of the road, that was to be understood, it was England.  However, when a blind curve was approaching while on that two lane road, he moved right out to pass a car.  He was traveling at a frighteningly high rate of speed. Our worst fear was realized when a car appeared coming toward us from the other direction on that curve – traveling at an equally frightening rate of speed.  We passed three abreast on that two lane road.  It took hours to clean the seats on the bus — okay, it almost scared us that much.

We drank warm, bitter beer and ate beef and kidney pie.  That was about as bad as it sounds.  We saw all the usual sights.  Both of us decided that we wanted to return some time.  That never happened.  We were right about the once in a lifetime opportunity.

Then we flew into Amsterdam and drove to Noordwijk-Aan-Zee, a small resort town on the North Sea.  There we stayed in a boarding house while we went back and forth to the radio station in a larger town nearby.  I remember riding bikes together to the laundromat.  I remember that the wash water was scaldingly hot.  Someone in there managed to warn us about that even though they spoke only Dutch and we spoke none.  I knew a few German words, but we were told that it would be far better to stick with English than to use any German.  Our bus was picketed at one point because we had a German bus driver.  The war was still fresh in people’s minds.

The weather was too cold for swimming, but we rode to the beach of the North Sea just to see it.  The breakfasts were cold cuts and cheese and breads.  For all the meals, all five days, we had the very same cloth napkin kept in a plastic holder at our place at the table.  We had fried chicken one night.  As a somewhat compulsive hand washer, it was a horrifying experience!

After recording for the Heinrich Schuetz festival, we headed on to Germany.  Only West Germany was accessible at that time.  We saw the huge Cologne Cathedral, Frankfort, Munich.  We visited castles, Linderhof, Neuschwanstein (where from the balcony of the throne room we saw one of the most beautiful views I have ever seen, a lake nestled in between wooded mountains).  We saw what was left of the Heidelberg Castle boasting the largest wine barrel ever filled with wine, so large that it had a dance floor on top.  We did a concert in a cathedral in which there was a full five seconds of reverberation after stopping the final chord. (We heard tell of one castle that had a seven seconds of reverberation.) It was a powerfully moving experience to sing in those churches.  We sang a total of 8 times in three weeks.  The rest of the time we traveled and saw so many beautiful sights.

Classmate Louie (nickname) and Elise had moved their wedding date to just days before the trip so that they could be together on it.  In Muenster, it happened that they were assigned to stay in separate places.  There were tears flowing.  Since by then we were an old married couple of six months, we offered to stay in separate places so that they could stay together.

In Muenster we stayed in homes for two nights since one of the members of the choir was recently from Germany.  We sang at her home church in Muenster.  Mary Ann stayed with a family that spoke English.  I did not stay with such a family.  Actually, I ended up in a boarding house run by a family from church.  The first night was fine.  One of the other boarders was Franz von den Ohden Rhein (Frank from the Old Rhine), who spoke English.  The second night Franz was gone.  I sat at the supper table with six or eight people who could speak no English, not a word.  I knew my one sentence in German, the one that revealed that my Mother was born in Germany.  That was it.  The good news was that after a few bottles of wine, we seemed to be able to communicate without much trouble (at least that is how I remember it — what I remember of it).

The adventure continues tomorrow.  (Can you say “Bobby Kennedy??”)

Today was a better day.  The morning walk was reassuring in that again, I actually enjoyed the sights and sounds.  The pain allowed me room for that.  After I got cleaned up, I got a cup of coffee at PT’s and was greeted by Sara and Kelsey.  They are barista’s who have been very thoughtful and welcoming to me.  I taught Kelsey in Confirmation Class and Confirmed her a number of years ago. She is very newly married.  She had some very thoughtful and affirming words.  It warmed my spirit.  A good way to start a day.

I wrote some thank you notes and then headed to Paisano’s for the monthly lunch with Jimmy.  He lost his wife many years ago and understood very well what I am going through.  After that I stopped for a moment to drop something off at church.  There I spent a few moments with Linda and Marilyn who were part of my support system for many years, whether they realized it or not.  They knew.

When I went to the Wild Bird House to stock up on feed for the birds, I was greeted very warmly by Melody and Todd, who had only a day or two before discovered that Mary Ann had died (still very hard to write or say).  Todd came over and put his arm around me to comfort me.  We have just talked on occasion over the last few months, mostly about birds.  I would stop there most weeks while Mary Ann was in her Tuesday morning Bible Study.  It helps so much to have people around who seem to care, trying to provide comfort and understanding.

I spent the middle of the afternoon writing thank you notes.  They brought me close to tears more than once as I thought about what Mary Ann went through.  I was also overwhelmed in a good way with the realization of all that so many people did for us.  The hours that people spent here are far beyond counting.  It is not even remotely possible for me to repay what was given.  Those who came usually enjoyed Mary Ann, but they were sometimes scared that she would pop up and then fall, maybe hurting herself.  I think people felt good that they were really helping us, making a substantial difference in our lives.  I think many felt that they were doing a ministry for Faith by freeing me to continue to serve Faith while Mary Ann could not be left alone.

It is also clear that Mary Ann ministered to those who came.  So many have been struck by her courage and unwavering faith in the face of all she went through.  She did not complain.   People could talk with her and know that it would not be shared with the next visitor.  I still marvel that she just took the next hit whatever it was and went on as if nothing had happened.

This afternoon, friend and former parishioner Mark came over to talk and listen.  He has been through this.  He phoned Sunday afternoon, knowing that it would be a terribly painful time for me.  We set this time then.  Mark brings with him a strong and vivid faith along with some counseling experience, as well as having lost his wife whom he loved just as I loved Mary Ann.  He walked me through a Psalm that was especially meaningful to him at the time of his grieving.  The content of our conversation will remain between us.  It is enough to say that it was a helpful, meaningful and comforting time for me, immersed in the Grace of God, and the healing God provides.

It has not been an easy day.  Easy is no longer an option, at least for now.  It was a better day.  The pain was clear and identifiable, always ready to pop back fully into view.  It did not express itself as often or with as much intensity as it has in the last days.  I am not so naive as to think it will not come back with full intensity whenever it chooses.  It was just helpful to have a day in which it did not rule.

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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.

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.