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!”

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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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.

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.