Thursday, June 12, 2014

Au Revoir

Well here it is. It has now been a few days short of a year since that fated night that unexpectedly changed my life forever. Last September, when I came up for air enough to go back to school and function, I made the decision that I did not want to be in this zip code when the anniversary of his death came around. Not having superb powers of concentration yet, I was reading light fiction by Maeve Binchy. Her books are all set in Ireland, and that seemed as good as any place to visit. I called my friend Sally and within a week we had booked a 10 day tour. It seemed light years away then, and yet here it is. We leave this evening for ten days.

I started this blog last year after being told several times what a terrible year it would be. I decided at that time that if that was true, then I really needed to write it down. I began writing it for myself, as a record of thoughts, feelings and changes during the year. I am amazed at the breadth of people it has reached; it is very humbling. And yet, the time has come for this blog to end. Every ending in life, be it death, divorce, job loss or whatever, needs a sense of closure. A place of peace to move forward.

Closure doesn't mean forgetting, or not reflecting on the past ever again. For me it means that I've worked really hard, really hard, this year to figure out where I go from here. Because after June 16, all the " firsts" are done. And he's still gone. And I'm still here. And if I learned anything this year it is that life is fragile and precious.

 I'm not the same person I was last June. Oh I am essentially the same, but when I look at the last year, and all I did to create a new path for myself, I am amazed. There were terrible parts where the waves of grief would literally knock me off my feet. But someone was always there to pick me up and hold me. How do you ever thank people and family enough for that? And then there were the " I Am Woman" moments, where I accomplished something like buying a new car alone, scuba diving, or household maintenance that had never been on my list of responsibility, where I actually stood a little taller. I got a little stronger so that the next wave didn't knock me down quite as hard. I learned this year to be okay by myself and to be good to myself. I created my own living space, and learned how to ask for help when I simply couldn't do something.  And I realized that my friend Sherri was right when she said it wouldn't be terrible, it would just be different. There were terrible parts to be sure, but there were magical parts as well as I forged my new path in this life.

I talked to him recently. It's true , I do that now and then, and I told him that I'm in the beginning of a new relationship that brings me laughter and joy again. I could honestly hear his loud laugh, and the words "Yes. Live." And his big hands gesturing, " Go...go."  with that huge s##t eating grin he had.

And so the year is done. Nothing changes dramatically because the year is over, but for me it marks a new beginning which will probably mean a new blog. This has been a hugely cathartic piece of my healing.

So I say to all of you reading this, and as I've said to Glenn many times in death-

au revoir.

Until we meet again.
On the journey.

Monday, June 2, 2014

June revisited.

And so it is June once again. I turned the calendar this morning and had a flood of emotions and memories.
In some ways it feels like, " Already?" But mostly it amazes and exhausts me to think of the events of  last June.

This week last year Glenn was attending Austin's eighth grade graduation, where the last formal picture I have of him was taken.  It remains one of my favorites.  I was finishing school, ready for summer and pestering him about a summer trip.  The last plan was to drive the Lake Superior trail, although he was only lukewarm on that.  I remember when he returned from that graduation, we called Chris on his birthday and said we would be down to St. Paul soon to celebrate both his and Rianna's birthday. Little did we know that his funeral would take place on Rianna's actual birthday.

Looking back at the calendar last year, this was the month his new assignment of mentoring at Emmanuel in Alexandria was to begin. He was as excited about that as anything I'd seen for a long time. He finally felt the part of spiritual leader in a parish again and he was like a duck in water.
The month before we had decided to stay here in Baxter indefinitely and there was a peace to that decision. It finally felt like home.

My mom was in the nursing home doing rehab on her broken arm. Never for a minute did I think I would visit her two weeks later in the middle of the night to tell her he was gone.

I'd like to say that last June 1st I saw it coming, but I didn't. And I don't think the card he gave me around Mothers Day was a premonition. But I do cherish it and Ariel made it into a wall hanging for me.
       From A.A. Milne-
        " If ever there is a time when we're not together...there is something you must always remember.
        You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think. Even if
         we're apart....I'll always be with you."

Who knew those words would prove so true last June 1st?

This will be one of my last blog entries. I always intended to keep it for a year so I would have a record. To keep it longer would mean to remain living and reflecting in the past. During this year I've come to really know and believe and accept that he is gone. And I'm still here.  We both believed that life is for the living; to be enjoyed and lived as fully as possible.

And that is my intention.

On the journey.

Saturday, May 24, 2014


I have  a plaque in my foyer that belonged to my mother. It says:
DANCE like no one is watching
SING like no one is listening
LOVE like you've never been hurt before.
LIVE like heaven begins tomorrow.

One year ago tonight my daughter Emily married her true soul mate and best friend. Their path was not always easy and they each brought a young son to the new marriage. But, everyone at the wedding knew, and felt, the beauty and joy of this union. Rather than just a couple, a new family was being created.

And it was wonderful. As it turns out it was the last wedding that Glenn would officiate.  It was non traditional, mostly, and he rolled with the punches, as he always did, very well. He understood the power of a new family being joined, as we once did the same. He always loved my two children as his own. As grandparents we were proud and happy and excited about adding a new grandson, Henry, to the mix, since we loved him already.

After the formalities were over, the fun began. And that's what I'm reflecting on this evening. Dancing had become a thing of the past for G because of his many joint replacements and general arthritis. But that night? We danced like no one was watching. Remember Libby Gray Koultourides? We laughed and spun and sang and then did it all over again.  As I remember, he was quite lame for days afterwards, but he expressed no regret, as it was so fun and so joyful.

And, twenty- three days later, with no warning,  he was dead.

So the words of this plaque my mom had, ring so true to me now.
DANCE! SING! LOVE!  It's all waiting for you; don't sit it out.
But the most important line on that plaque?
 Because heaven might REALLY  begin  tomorrow.
Dancing, singing, loving and most of  all living......
On the journey.

Henry and Ryan dancing it up at the wedding.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

A Lucky Mom

Mothers Day is the traditional holiday in which to honor one's mother. It is a very old holiday and one that G used to call " National Guilt Day."

But today I feel like it's not about me being a mother, but celebrating these wonderful adults I call my children. 

I have been sitting here reflecting on my relationship with them both, this past hard year. I have always been close to my kids, but more in a traditional mother/ child relationship. Always I worried about them, sometimes I drove them crazy, but always I knew they loved me.

The roles reversed a bit in the events of last summer, and they became the protectors and worriers of me. As my brother said, " They really stepped up to the plate." Indeed they did.

In the early months, I spent most weekends hanging out with either one of them. I had a permanently packed bag and a dog crate in my car all the time. I was a weekly fixture at one or the other's home. Thank you Paul and Rianna for welcoming your mother- in- law so warmly.

There is a saying about silver linings. My silver lining is that now, almost a year later, I know my children and their spouses as the adults they have become, and not just as their mom. They are my friends and my family and I am so proud of them. And my how I like them. I can always count on laughing when I am with them. 

And so on this Mother's Day I'm actually honoring my children. Thank you for all you have done for me and for the fabulous and loving people you have become. 

Being part of your lives has been the best gift I've ever received. 

On the journey.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Livin' The Dream

Today was my last day at work for this school year. Friday morning at 7:00 I am having a sacrocolpolplexy(sp?)  a big word for "let's yank it all up and tie it  back together" from childbirth  injuries, endometriosis, a hysterectomy and gravity.  The surgery is being done with a robot assist(!) at a hospital in Minneapolis. Bless my children in advance for their caregiving.

No one I have ever met in my life has aspired from an early age to teach eighth grade. In fact, we joke that other people's reactions are either, " What?? Eighth grade? Is that the only job you could get?" Or, " Oh....eighth I'm sorry."  Which is why, among my colleagues, we often answer each other when greeted with, " Hey!  How are ya?" by replying,
 " Livin' the dream."

But sometimes it's really true for me. As others, I thought my career in education would land me in an elementary classroom, and I did teach sixth grade for a time, after a brief sojourn in eighth grade. Every grade level has it's positive sides, but when I returned to eighth grade seven years ago, I knew it was where I belonged.  At Forestview Middle School, there is a strong camaraderie among the staff in eighth grade, and truly, many of them have become my surrogate family, especially this last year. At lunch last week, Misty blurted out, " You people make it too hard to look for another job somewhere." You do too MJ. Which is why I cried like a baby saying goodbye while hugging my teammate Shane, who is leaving Team 8C next year for a  new career path. He brightened up my every day. Plus he always shared his gum and his Strib with me. :) And Lisa? We couldn't even go there as you were leaving, today, could we? Tearing up, just thinking about it. And Todd S....your final act of friendship was letting me "steal" your cookie one more time at lunch.
Godspeed you three. You will be missed by me.

So today was bittersweet. My summer break begins early, but so did the goodbyes.

It's no surprise to you if you know me, that what I love about eighth grade is that at that age, it's all about the relationship. Yes, I love teaching the literature, and the history behind it and all the other pieces of eighth grade English. And yes, I hate that my job is turning into one big mandated testing curriculum.  But for me it's about the kids. And knowing them, and being teacher/mentor/parent at times/but mostly, a trusted adult that they can turn to when needed. Some years the connections aren't so strong. Some kids at this age are just pukes, as we say. And it seems to be a group mentality for the most part. This year  however, our kids are wonderful. And there were some strong connections made. And some of them grew up so much and I am so proud of who they are becoming. One boy, the kid who drives you nuts, but you also love? He suggested that I just Skype from home during 3rd hour so that I could still be the teacher. A few notes shyly taped to my desk while I was out saying,
" When I'm at school you're like my mom....I don't want you to leave." Another one said, " I wouldn't have survived eighth grade without you. You were always there for me when I was down."

And so, I move on, some of my dear friends and colleagues move on, and certainly our 8C kids move on.  Robert Frost said it well when he said, " I can sum up life in three words. It goes on."

Livin' the dream.

On the journey.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Being an Easter Person

Ever since napalm was suddenly dropped on my very orderly and contented life last June 16, I'd known this holiday was coming.
Easter. It was " our" holiday. The one we really celebrated with joy and presents and the realization that Easter is what it's all about; what WE were all about. We were Easter people; aware of God's grace in this life, and the promise of the resurrection in the next. Because of Glenn's calling and my upbringing,  I've always done the whole Lenten, Good Friday watch and that would make Easter morning all the more special. As many Christians proclaim on Easter morning, "He is Risen...The Lord is risen indeed", so did we start the day every year with that proclamation as we awoke.

I didn't do the journey this year. I just didn't have it in me. But, I knew I would be in an Episcopal church this morning, with renewed knowledge of what it means to be an Easter person. And the one I attended this year has special meaning to me. You see, my son Chris was always the church kid in our family; proud of Glenn's vocation and active in many diocesan youth programs. When he went to college, he majored in history and religion, and essentially scholarized himself out of a belief system. When Glenn died, he told me that he realized that that part of his life, which had once been so important to him, was missing. He intended to find an Episcopal church, where he could be comfortable. He made sure I knew he had no plans to go every Sunday or join the Vestry and that he still isn't "touchy-feely about it." At the time, I chuckled, thinking it was a reaction to his grief. But, he did it. He did his research and found a beautiful church home where the clergy are young and of his ultra-liberal  ethos, and where he and Rianna are both comfortable and are now members. So, although my sojourn as clergy spouse is done, I do have a wonderful place to worship with my family on occasion. Grace and promise. Being an Easter person.

The Reverend Jered Weber-Johnson ( you know he's young ...his name is Jered...and he hyphenates his wife's name and his:)) preached about being "Easter people in a Good Friday world."  Wow. That so spoke to me. I've had a Good Friday YEAR.

There was a wonderful article in a recent issue of The New York Times by David Brooks. He reflected on suffering, and the article was quoted in the sermon today as well. He says in it that often when people emerge  from suffering, they are not healed completely; they are just different.

There is truth in that. I am not the same person I was ten months ago. Glenn's sudden traumatic death, and my mother's recent death were defining moments of grief and sadness in my life. They left scars.

But he went on to say in his sermon, that although the wounds may still be visible, they do not have to define us; that by the knowledge that there is grace in this life and the next, through the risen Christ, we can have hope.

My wounds are still there. Visible in my tears sometimes.  But, being an Easter person , I know that I am also stronger, more aware, more grateful for the people in my life who I love, and full of promise and hope for the future. And assured of the next one.

Remaining an Easter person.
On the journey.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

A Different Journey

This has been a journey within my journey.
My mother fell critically ill while I was on vacation in Mexico in March. The day after I returned, she was returned to her assisted living facility under the care of hospice. She knew, and we knew that it was the end.  I made the conscious decision to stay with her for her final journey, and I did , with help from my brother and friends. At the very end, at 1:53 a.m on March 24, she gave " the whisper of death" as I sang every hymn she loved,, and prayed every prayer I could find, and held her hand. And  although it was not a surprise, it still was. I went home numbly.  It was such a different experience than Glenn's death that I wasn't sure how to respond or how to feel.  I spent many hours reliving his death and loss again mixed with pure grief for my mom. It was hard to tell where one stopped and the other began.
We decided for many reasons to wait almost three weeks for her funeral and burial in Milwaukee.
During those weeks, it was incredibly hard to carry on in life and work as if everything was normal. Apparently my brother had the same experience. He would awaken in the night and hear the Louis Armstrong songs we played for her in his head, over and over.
She had left such explicit directions of what she wanted, and what hymns were to be sung  and where she wanted the service, and what was to be done with her cremains,  that it became part of the journey to make sure it all happened as she wished. I was committed to honoring her final wishes.
And so, on Thursday afternoon I stopped by the funeral home and picked up her cremains, lovingly put them in my carry on (yes I checked with the airline) and began the journey that I considered to be taking her physical self home to rest in eternity with my dad. I believe her spiritual self is already there, of course. On Friday morning my brother wanted a turn carrying the box too as went to deliver them to be comingled with my dad. He felt the same sense of a journey I think.
But, if there  is such a thing as a joyous, or "fun" funeral, this was it. It was a service of celebration and remembering,and the time leading up to it, and afterwards were times of laughter, and remembering and quality time spent with lifetime friends and family. Ryan and Henry were on " hug alert" in case Grammy got sad and needed one.  I'm humbled by the effort that my friends the Boos' and Erica and her mom made by driving from Brainerd, and by my oldest and dearest friend Sue Moynahan by flying in from California.
I expected it to be difficult because it was held in the church Glenn and I married in, the church where he did hundreds of services, and I did choke up a bit. His absence was felt when I walked in.  But so was his presence. And hers. They were both there.
And when I look at the pictures I took,  everyone is happy and smiling and celebrating her life.
Which is exactly, exactly what she would have loved. Every now and then I kept expecting to turn to her and say, " Isn't this great?" And when I got home, I wanted to call her and tell her what a wonderful weekend we had for her. Those will be my new normals to adjust to.
My mom sincerely believed that she had been blessed above all and that she had had a perfect life. That's why she told me not to grieve for her. That's not possible, but the whole weekend reminded me of her favorite saying. She had a big sticker on her mirror in the apartment where she lived before assisted living.
It said, " LIFE IS GOOD."
Yes it is. It is indeed. You taught us what that meant.
RIP Mom.
On the journey.