Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The First Noel

My intention for writing this blog was to keep a written record of my journey this first year, since so many told me of the struggle that it would be. And although it is public and seems to have reached many, it still does what I first intended. It gives me a chance to reflect on the many experiences and feelings I have had. I often go back and read early entries to remember. Someday I will look back at these writings about my first Christmas without Glenn as well, and remember.

I thought I was going to sneak through the actual days of Christmas without much sadness. And mostly I did, thanks to my children. Between the two of them, I was at one house or the other, celebrating the day and being together. I would have to say that there was much more laughter than tears. And thoughtful loving gifts and gestures.

On Christmas Eve I went to a very large and beautiful Episcopal church, unlike any that Glenn ever served. His gift was small, out state parish ministry. At this church, there were three choirs, brass, a verger, the whole Anglican experience. And so, it didn't feel that strange not to have my husband on the altar. Yes, I teared  up at some of the Christmas hymns, but mostly out of gratitude that through my faith, I know where Glenn is, and that he is celebrating as well.

Today was harder. The excitement is over, I'm alone again, and I'm tired. I drove home in silence, not trusting myself to listen to the radio. Tonight I ate dinner with my mom, came home, put some music on and proceeded to have a little Christmas celebration of my own.

I opened the presents under the tree from my brother and his family and the ones so lovingly given to me by my school friends so that I would have things under my tree. Boo and Attie pretended to be interested, and happily ripped up the paper after I opened them.

Has it been easy? No. I have spent time today looking at his pictures and pictures from last Christmas, where I chauffeured him between two small churches on Christmas Eve. I thought of his silly, wonderful self wishing me a Merry Christmas in his very loud voice. And how delighted he would act at whatever present I gave him. And how when we got home, whatever time it was, we always cooked steak and shrimp.

And although I feel his presence with me often,  I miss his earthly self dearly.

But I continue on the path, making new memories, experiencing new joy, while treasuring the memories we had together. Sometimes those two things collide and I feel a bit badly. I think it is called "survivor guilt".

But I'm working on that too, on this journey.

Merry Christmas to all who read and share this blog. May your hearts be filled with memories of loved ones, here and not here.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Whisper Words of Wisdom

Six months today. The death certificate would indicate that it is tomorrow, but I was there. I know exactly when it happened- right in front of my eyes. The attempt to revive him lasted long into the 17th, but his essence was already gone before midnight.

Six months has brought me some closure and mostly release of the feeling that I could have done anything to change the outcome. But the pain of his absence is still palpable.

 During these months I have laughed, cried, and done things I never knew I could do while learning how to ask for help.

 I have discovered the power and commitment of friendship and family, and been humbled and amazed by the responses I've received.

I've established new routines and learned how to give up the ones that are still painful.

I adopted Attie and his spirit has breathed new life into this home.

But mostly I think I've discovered a peace in my grief. Sometimes I am still overwhelmed by it, but I'm learning how to stay in the pain until I can breathe again.

I was reminded of this song tonight. I have turned to this song during hardships, many times in my life. It brings me such peace.

Let It Be

And when I feel Glenn speaking to me, this is his message. 
Stop struggling, let it be.

I'm working on it on the journey.

Friday, December 13, 2013

An Abundance of gratitude.

It all started yesterday with an unexpected package in the mail from a far away but close to my heart friend. And it continued today.

A few  weeks ago, my dear friend Misty, who is a far more eloquent and succinct writer than I could ever be, shared a blog about the sheer abundance of blessings in her life, and how most of them were caused by fate rather than merit. 

I get it. Tonight I am humbled and amazed by my blessings. Today, in the midst of a crazy Friday, Misty appeared in my classroom with a bag of gifts. 

Before you can understand this story completely, you must know that for more than six weeks, she has been suffering from debilitating pain due to a herniated disc. She has only been permitted to work minimal hours per week while trying to heal this injury. It has been mentally and physically devastating  for her as she tries to maintain a semblance of normalcy for her family. She has a very full plate of her own right now.

And yet, in the midst of such physical and emotional pain, she managed to think, when she saw my post about putting up a Christmas tree, that there would be no presents for ME under the tree, because there was no one here to buy and wrap anything.  (Dog and cat transactions are still frowned  upon in most retail establishments:). This hurt her and her daughters' hearts and they decided to take action.

So with precious tears in her eyes, she gave me a bag that contained some truly special gifts. They are safely under the tree, awaiting opening on Christmas. 

A couple tags were like getting a sneak peak of what is inside.

"Derbs! I love you to the moon and back!" from Tammy.

From Trudi" I love your sparkle and so much more."

And there are a few from the children of these dear friends. Oh my. Oh my. 

As I put them under the tree tonight, I sobbed. They were not tears of sorrow, but tears of overwhelming gratefulness and love. 

How in the world does "thank you" ever feel like enough? Can anyone ever truly grasp what these gestures mean in these dark days?
Out of such  great pain, such great joy is celebrated on this journey.
I remain astounded.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Checking in

Recently I returned to a therapeutic yoga class that I had been attending in September. Back then I wasn't ready. I was still trying to build a new normal with school starting minus Glenn and Boo's buddy Abi. I realized a few weeks ago that my mind had quieted a bit more, and that the new routine was as settled as it could be, so I decided to go back. And I'm so glad. One thing we do in class is to "check-in" with our body at the beginning of the practice before we start lenghthening and strengthening. We notice how our shoulders and back feel etc., so we can develop a sense of awareness and comparison at the end of the session.

This is what I've been doing mentally this holiday season. Checking in. I'm doing as much as I can for the holiday, when I can, and it seems to be working. But it is those little things that still call me up short.

I sent Christmas cards. Some traditions I feel strongly about continuing, which is probably why I put up a tree. I paused when I designed the signature. One name. It looked so strange.  I decided after some reflection not to include a picture of Glenn, and yet that was hard too. Another little goodbye.

This week my car was in the shop getting body work done. I had to rent a car, because I am alone. Alone.  I am truly not alone, with friends and family, but I live alone. I have no life-mate. That is a strange new situation. It wasn't huge, but it was different.  Glenn would have just handled it for me.

After the blizzard this week, it got bitterly cold. I went to the grocery store and was reminded how if Glenn was still alive, he would drive me around on all my errands. He liked to do that even when the weather was nice. I miss seeing our car parked strategically so he could see me when I came out. It struck me that day that I'd never have that again. Ow.

Last night I was exhausted and ended up falling asleep on the couch. For the first time nobody was here to tell me to wake up and go to bed.  It felt lonely when I stumbled in at 4 am.

It's all the little things.

It has been 25 weeks now, almost half a year. When I check in, I see that I am healing.  Sometimes it still feels hard to believe, but I'm making plans and I am continuing to move forward. I have new routines and when I check in, I realize I'm okay. And as my therapist has taught me to say, "Right now." And I'm learning to celebrate those moments.

Checking in while on the journey.

Friday, November 29, 2013

I Continue To Learn

The holiday season is officially upon us. I've had five months, almost six,  to prepare for it; that is, as much as it is possible to prepare for any of these "firsts." And I've discovered some things I'm learning.

I'm learning that going from  feeling good and singing along to the radio one minute, to crying when the next song plays the next minute,  does not mean that I am going crazy. I'm learning that it is okay to feel really lonely and alone like I did on Wednesday night in anticipation of the holiday.

I faithfully did the  30 days of gratitude exercise on Facebook. I learned that I have MORE than 30 things and people to be thankful for.  And living in gratitude feels really, really good. I'm planning to make it a habit.

I'm learning that I really do have a lot in common with football players. It seems like when I'm scared of the next stage, I just plow through it, head first for the "goal line" with hopes of getting there faster so I can check it off my mental "list."

For instance, I'd barely been home today before I put up the outside wreaths and the tree inside. I wondered why I felt motivated to do it today. Was I trying to prove something? No. I decided that this is still my home and my refuge, and so I did it just for me. That is a brand new concept for me. I'm learning to think about what I want.

 I opened the trunk that contained most of our special things, such as our stockings  and our collection of Santa figures that we've accumulated over the years,  but that seemed too painful. So I closed it. Maybe they won't come out this year...or ever again. That's okay. I'm learning to be gentle with myself.

I'm learning not to look too far ahead. I stopped  myself from thinking that  I'd never cook a Thanksgiving dinner again, or other such holiday traditions. Maybe I will and maybe I won't.  It's okay.

I've had some wise advice. One from my friend Sherri who assured me a few months ago that life wouldn't be terrible, it would just be different. Very true words that I continue to learn from. The other was that I never have to try to "get over it" , but that I can know that I will  one day get used to it. That offers me much peace of mind.
More lessons on the journey.

Friday, November 22, 2013

It Is the Small Stuff

I used to be an advocate of the saying, "Don't sweat the small stuff."  Now I realize that life IS the small stuff.

It has been officially five months since Glenn died.

In these months, the ENORMITY of his death has mostly left me. The night he died in front of my eyes is reaching a place of peace. There are times when it still overwhelms me, but mostly  I  have reached a place where I realize that I could not have saved him, and I am willing to release that. Pretty much. Not all there..

What still gets me is the small stuff. In planning for my brother and sister-in-law's visit this weekend, I realized that I didn't need to buy 7-up because Glenn wasn't here. It stupidly made me tear up.

Some morning tv show this week had a segment on Thanksgiving. G had his favorite-whole cranberries- no need to buy them...watching the segment made me tear up.

Recently I found a card that Ariel made  into a wonderful wall hanging for me.  G gave it to me while I was on a retreat when we were first married. At the time "If ever we are apart" was a romantic fantasy. Now that is reality....oh my.

I opened his bedside table drawer by accident the other day. I haven't felt strong enough to go there.  All the remnants of his last day were there: his  wallet, his watch, his pix(pocket communion set); all signs of a life interrupted .  He always complained about not having enough cash in his pocket. The poor guy died with $4 in his wallet. A small thing I regret.

Small stuff. How many times did I say, "No we can't afford that?" How many times did we not do something because of money or fear of it being  not accessible?

I was the health cop...I made sure alarms were set for every medication he was to take. I monitored all our movements as to whether it would be ok for him and his mobility. G had one of the first Cpap machines out there. Fat lotta good it did him.  Still a little resentful.

It really is about the small stuff.  Go for life to the fullest on this journey.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Chutes and Ladders

My favorite childhood game was Chutes and Ladders. My kids and now my grandsons play it. The purpose of the game is to make your way to the end, avoiding the "chutes" along the board. If you land  on a "ladder"you get to move many steps forward. If you are unlucky enough to land on a "chute", you slide backwards to where you were several rolls before. Then once again you try to move forward and hope that landing on a ladder will jump you forward past your original spot.

This is what my journey through grief is like. The die rolls, I move forward one move at a time. Sometimes I land on a ladder and "Whoosh" ....I'm  way out front. Then, as has happened the last few days, I land on a chute and "Zoom"...I'm back to the beginning again.

Yesterday I opened a drawer ,without thinking ,that contained Glenn's wallet and other things that he stuck in his pocket daily. That led me to notice all the signs around the house that indicate that he lived here with me and not that long ago. Our wedding rings that now sit side by side in my jewelry box, were on our hands 23 weeks ago. His writings on the calendar, his boots in the closet, the cords for his now silent devices, the love note he left me on our chalk board. "Zoom" ....down the chute I went. Once again I realized how gone he really is. And he really won't be back. Somehow different levels of my subconscious keep relearning that, even after I think I believe it.

Thankfully I had an appointment with my awesome therapist today; truly she is a gift to me. What a safe place to grieve. She helped me see that this is how I feel,right now. And that it is okay. Maybe it will get better.  And that while I probably will never get over it, I'll get used to it. I liked that. No matter what the future holds, Glenn will always be in my heart. And that maybe I'm doing better than I think. 

Tonight I am  doing much better. Lots of online laughs with my amazing friends, Boo and Attie are rolling and chasing around the house,  and I'm looking forward to see my kids and grandsons this weekend. 

Tonight I landed on a ladder during the journey.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted

Apparently there is now a piece of technology called "Google glasses" or something like that. And here I think I'm cool owning an IPad and knowing how to tell my students to "share the doc" with me. Besides I don't need those glasses right now because I've got some internal high-powered specs on, ever since June 16th. I feel like the lady from "Romper Room" who used to look through her big magnifying glass and pretend she could see everybody out there in TV land. I view life in 3-D these days.

I spent the morning with my family. No, not my biological family, but the people in Glenn's last job at Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Alexandria, Minnesota. It is about 90 minutes from here; 90 minutes that have come to be dear to me. Glenn served Emmanuel twice a month for the last three years. Those of you with teenagers know that often it is in the car where the most meaningful conversations happen. And so it was for us those last few years. In the business of daily life there wasn't the quiet time to share stories of the past, good and bad, and to dream for the future. I had taken to being the driver; on the way down, so that he could meditate and finalize his message; on the way back so he could unwind and we could process the morning. The long miles of farm fields in between  led to many intimate and touching conversations and reminisces from both of us.

I knew I would attend church there today, because in our faith tradition, it is All Saints Sunday. The Episcopal church considers our hymns another way of praying. And so when the organ started playing, "For All The Saints", the "theme song of this day, I didn't make it through, "from whom their labors  rest", before the tears came.Unlike the Roman Catholic Church, we don't pray to saints to intercede for us....we go straight to the top:). We do acknowledge and celebrate those who have been martyred in the faith, known or unknown,  and they have their own feast days, including today. But our focus on this day is two-fold; first it is to recognize the "small s" (they aren't really called that) saints who have gone before us, and secondly, to welcome and pray for the newly baptized .

When I wrote Glenn's obit, I said that he "joined the communion of saints." Those were words I grew up with. I know what it means now. The Rev Linnae Haeg was the priest at E today. She and Glenn were due to mentor together, and he held her in very high regard. Her sermon spoke to how even the members of the early church didn't behave well, and yet were referred to as "saints." And how in the Old and New Testament the word "faithful" is used interchangeably with "saint." She said, "A saint is not someone who is made holy, but one who is blessed by God."

Yes.  Glenn Derby was human. Not perfect.  At all.  Even as an ordained priest, he knew his flaws; a human who made mistakes in his life, was forgiven and redeemed, and therefore blessed by God. The cycle of faith.

And this is really why that drive became dear to me. When my kids were young and he was a parish priest, he always left the house early to prepare for both services. I wasn't privy to his prayers and meditations, because I was trying to feed the pets and get the kids to church. For the last few years when we pulled up to the church in Alex, he would take my hand and pray, and his final words before we got out were always, " Lord, may I be the first one changed by the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart."

I close with the third verse of my favorite childhood hymn, from which language  you can tell that we truly are the Church of England, "I Sing A Song of the Saints of God"

"They lived not only in ages past, there are hundreds of thousands still; the world is bright with the joyous saints, who love to do Jesus' will. You can meet them in school or in lanes  or at sea, in church , or in trains, or in shops or at tea; for the saints of God are just folk like me, and I mean to be one too."
Comforting words on the journey.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Happy Memories

I was reflecting tonight on the events leading up to a little scruffy dog coming to live with us seven years ago today.

At the time, I was struggling. My children are six years apart in age, and so I spent a long time mothering and nurturing-from1981 to 2006. I love being a mother, and I have loved every stage of their lives, including now when they are successful, independent adults.

But in the fall of 2006, I was having a true case of empty- nest syndrome.  My sweet boy Christopher had left for Hamline University, and he never looked back. And while I was so happy for him, finding his niche, I was missing being a full time mom for the first time in 25 years.

Glenn had just retired, and he was struggling with how to fill his days in a meaningful way too.
He spent lots of time just hanging out.

Which is what brought him to HART that Halloween day in 2006. A friend of mine's dad had recently surrendered a Great Dane to HART ( Heartland Animal Rescue Team). Glenn loved big dogs and went to "visit". He sent me an email that he and Solomon were on their way home.

I came UNGLUED. We were in the process of selling our house to leave  our options open. We weren't sure if we would remain here. We were planning to rent an apartment while we worked it out.
I literally FLEW out of school mad as a hen. I couldn't imagine what he was thinking....we can't have a Great Dane in an apartment!

I pulled in the driveway, and there was my daughter, who was still living in Brainerd at the time, holding a darling little dog that resembled Benji from the movie.

What a trick! He saw this dog and knew that it would help me make the transition to the next stage in life, by giving me something to train and care for. The dog was heaven-sent. He caught on to the schedule of our household and fit in as if he had always lived there. And he always has.

While we pondered what to name him, a trick-or-treater rang the doorbell and yelled, "Boo!" Right then we knew....

Ironically I recently adopted a cat (who thinks he is a dog) and I named him Atticus, after the protagonist in my favorite novel, To Kill A Mockingbird.  If you know the novel, you will chuckle that I now have Atticus and Boo living with me. :)

Throughout this time in my life, I am amazed at how life pieces itself together without realization, until you reflect on it with hindsight. Then the pieces all start to make sense.

Lessons on the journey.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Three wishes

Three wishes is a common motif in many pieces of literature across many cultures.

These are my three wishes tonight.

1. I wish hadn't been sleepy and unalarmed when Glenn felt sick that night. Even if it wouldn't have made a difference, which I know logically it wouldn't have, maybe then I could truly believe it in my heart now. 

2. I wish I could have said goodbye and had a chance to tell him how much I loved him one more time. While I was busy doing CPR and calling 911, he left me forever.

3. More than anything tonight, I wish he was still here with me. I miss him so much.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Waking up

18 weeks. My daughter kindly wondered aloud this weekend when I thought I'd stop counting. I have no idea. It's kind of my nature to put things in chronological order according to major life events.

I do know that I feel a bit like Rip Van Winkle. I'm starting to wake up a bit. Life is getting a little less foggy.

I have been so blessed on this journey to have the support of family and dear friends. Indeed, I truly believe I would not have survived without them. But the reality of human nature is that life moves on. People, even those closest to you,  want to see the person they love moving forward. And at work when aquaintances say, " Hey! How are you?" , most often they are greeting you and really don't want a Debbie Downer answer. I get that. And since school started, I have tried to be emotionally anonymous at work. It's a coping technique.

But I know that those feelings have to have an outlet. So I finally made an appointment with a much recommended therapist here in town. I wasn't disappointed. Her professionalism has given me a safe place to work through my grief.

And what I'm realizing, in reliving some of it with her, is that there were parts of that evening and the weeks after that I either don't remember, or I just now remember. For instance, I must have unlocked the door for the paramedics, but I have no recollection of it, nor do I remember any phone calls made that evening. It is important to recreate it, in order to be complete with it. I'm finally letting go of the fact that I could have changed the outcome, and why I thought I could. Almost. I still want to own it somehow. Mostly what I remember from the summer was not being able to breathe.

I'm starting to awaken. Now, I know what I'm ready to change, and what I'm not ready to change. For example, I spoke with a jeweler about having our rings made into a single piece of jewelry. I'm not ready for that yet. A few changes in the house decor? Ready.
I put away most of his clothes in the back closet this summer and thought  I was done with that task, and then I found  a trunk full of winter clothes etc. I sighed and shut it for a different day. Wasn't ready.

I'm waking up. I'm able to work through my grief in appropriate ways so that I can function in the rest of my world.  I'm compartmentalizing. That's a good thing.

Starting to awaken on the journey. One day at a time.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Phantom limbs

The other day someone posted this on Pinterest and it really spoke to me. 

 "In French, you don't really say " I miss you"... you say, "tu me manques " which means, "you are missing from  me"...."

There is such a distinction in that statement.

I miss Glenn every second of every minute of every hour. But, as Robert Frost so eloquently said, "Life goes on". I no longer feel that desperate grief. 

I have worked hard to keep living life; new routines, furniture arrangements, a new feline family member, and even a new hot tub.

 Although it was hard going back, my days at work are full and mostly happy, spent with dear friends and energetic eighth-graders. 

My auto-response still imagines telling Glenn news from the day, and sometimes I still reach to call or email him during the day, before I remember that he is missing from me.

I feel as I would imagine  people who have lost a limb feel; their conscious mind knows that their arm or leg is missing, and yet, "phantom" pain makes them think their  limb is still present.

Most days I don't spend time in lonely grief anymore. For the most part I've started to believe my truth, and I'm creating a new life. 

But I have a "phantom limb" named Glenn.

He is missing from me, but I still feel him with me.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Radiant love.

It is Sunday today. It has been 16 weeks today. It would be four months if our calendar didn't throw in some five week months. Thanks Julian calendar :).

Normally I would be suffering. Instead,  I have enjoyed a very peaceful, grace-filled day.  I did all my have-to-do errands yesterday.

On reflection, I think I know why. Once again it is the witnessing of grace; the belief that Glenn and I based our marriage upon, that continues to bring me such peace. The beauty of grace is that it is freely given; in our faith it is a gift from God.

Last night, in the midst of some absolutely horrendous weather, I saw grace in action again. I was fortunate enough to witness my friends Chris and Karole become legally married by the state of Minnesota. Let me clarify that six months ago they would not have been allowed to marry. Last night's celebration was not about a "civil union". It was about love and commitment to each other forever. Grace was present.

They lovingly placed a chair in the picture tent, painted fuschia in honor of Glenn. It held a candle, flowers and his picture with that s###t eating grin he always had. If you have been my FB friend for awhile, you would know that Chris and Glenn had an eternally long battle about painting one of our chairs at the fire pit fuschia. It was so touching I had trouble finding words. Grace in action.

Grace. Glenn was a huge football- playing , testosterone filled GUY with just as big of a heart. His heart led him to fully embrace love and marriage for all. It was a journey for him- he worked through it. Fortunately we belong to a loving and inclusive church that supported this journey, and he ended up believing it with all that he was.

He used to tell me that our friends who are gay were  such a gift to him, because they put faces and humanity above the politics.; he loved them for the humans they are, not for whom they chose to love. Besides, Chris Kelly.....he loved your laugh. It was only matched by his own. And Audra? If you are reading this, know that Glenn thought you were the gentlest soul he ever knew and said so every time we saw you.

Yes. I feel radiant love today in the presence of grace.

It's all part of the journey.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The speed of life.

When my daughter Emily was about a month old I remember telling my father that I couldn't wait until she could sit up. He told me not to wish her life away; to which I either literally or figuratively rolled my 25 year old eyes. What did THAT mean?

I so totally understand his sentiments now. Emily is now 32! What? How did that happen? Tonight I read my alumni magazine from St. Olaf -I graduated in 1978...35 did THAT happen?

You know  the years have gone by when you skip marriages and births and career changes,  and skip to deaths, in the alumni magazine. It is morbid, but true. And then when you sigh a breath of relief to realize nobody you know is on the list.

The other shocking thing I read was the obituaries of two profs that were "newbies "when I started college. Huh? do you continue to live your life when you know the inevitable  ending?

Fake it. Live like you have forever. Take the chances. Spend the money. Take the trips. Ride the horses. (Okay. Riding a horse is on my bucket list.)

I've learned there is a fine line between planning for the future and living your life without regret.

Glenn lived his life. He understood the balance very well. I was the worrier ...he just lived life without much worry. He never got his Ford F150 pickup truck, but he had many other cool vehicles. 

I always thought his weakness was his desire to live in the present.

I now think  it was his strength. 
Lessons on the journey.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Seasons of Life

Contrary to the Bangles song a few years ago, Sunday is NOT my "fun day." Today is the 14th Sunday. Some have been better than others, but today was just hard. I had a sense of hopelessness for the first time about the quality of my life from here on out. That is not my nature. I realized I was operating "below the line", as my friend Trudi uses to measure attitudes. But it was where I needed to be today. And I let myself stay there.

It has been a season of loss for me. Besides the loss of my soulmate and the life and future we had planned, there have been other losses as well this summer.  I didn't call or blog or Facebook anyone because I just needed to mourn today, for the things and people I have lost in the last 14 weeks.

And then an old song started playing in my head and it's been there ever since. It is based on chapter 3 in the book of Ecclesiastes.

Ecclesiastes 3

New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised (NRSVA)

Everything Has Its Time

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to throw away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.

For those of you who would like to listen to the Byrd's singing "Turn, Turn, Turn" circa 1966, here is the You Tube link: I hope you can open it. Every life journey has its seasons. 

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Bonfire Appearances

Shortly after moving to Minnesota, Glenn and I took up camping. Sometimes the children reluctantly came along. :) We started with a tent, so that we could pull our boat and still take one vehicle. Sleeping on mats turned into cots, and after a few years, the tent turned into a popup camper. We went all over Minnesota, and in 2006 we camped all the way through Glacier, up to Jasper, Alberta, and down to Jackson Hole, Wyoming. We were gone for most of the month of July. Wonderful memories.

By the next summer we decided that the only part of camping we would miss was sitting around the fire in the morning and again at night. Our air conditioned home and bed won out, and we started docking the boat on Gull and enjoying it there.

After we bought this house, we tried different methods of recreating our campfires. We had several "portable" models, until Glenn, being Glenn, decided we should build a mammoth bonfire pit in our back yard. If you follow me on FB, you watched the construction and the ensuing decisions of what color to paint the adirondack chairs. We decided to fill it in with soft beach-like sand, so the grandchildren could play there too. We always planned to brick it in someday, but it was so big we probably would have had to win the lottery first.

We loved it and used it frequently. Many world, local and family problems were solved while watching the flames. Last fall and spring Glenn spent  a lot of time cleaning out the woods so we would have plenty to burn.

And now he's gone. I've had 3 fires this year, including one right now. But it's not the same anymore, and  every time I look at it, it reminds me of what I have lost.

So lately I've been contemplating taking it apart, and maybe replacing it with a pool next summer. I love water, and it represents warmth and laughter and happiness. We will see. Last night I was thinking about offering all the bricks and insert to anyone who would come and take them away.

This morning shortly before I awoke, I dreamed that the fire pit was being taken apart, only there were huge holes, such as you would make when excavating for a house. And after all that this guy was refusing to take the bricks.

And then, Glenn was standing there. In the same dark blue, paisley shirt he had on the last time he was in my dreams. He had that shirt about 15 years ago; it puzzles me why it shows up. In fact, he had his old aviator style glasses on too. Doesn't say much about heaven's fashion sense.

He didn't say anything, he just stood there expressionless like the last time,and it was obvious, that although my kids and others were there, that I was the only one who could see him. I think I said something about a pool, and looking forward. I reached out to put my arms around him, and even in my dream I could feel the corse texture of that shirt, and how it felt to lay my head on his chest.

And then I woke up. And I haven't been able to get past that dream.

I came outside a little while ago and lit the bonfire my friends had laid a few weeks ago when it was still too hot to enjoy a fire. And I cried like I haven't cried in weeks. It's all part of this journey.

Monday, September 9, 2013

The Journey continued...

Lately I can really relate to the posters we have all seen that say, "It's not the destination, it's the journey." This is quite a journey.
Last week was harder than I thought. Even though I am in my 11th year of teaching, it felt like I was starting a new job. Hard to explain, but it was almost surreal. So familiar, yet so strange. By Friday night I was exhausted. It has now been 12 weeks. 

For some reason during the week,  I was able to find a place of increased peace. It came from this. I realized that at 69, Glenn was too young by today's standards to die. But he had lived a very full life and he left this earth at peace with God and loved by me. He didn't suffer. I thought we would have ten more years together, at least. But I still wouldn't have been ready to let him go ten years from now. And I came to see, that after watching three of our parents suffer terribly from the ravages of advanced old age, I was feeling at peace that he was able to live big and leave quickly. That is not to say that I don't replay that fated night over and again. Time will heal that scenario,  I hope. 
Last week, our dear friend Jim came and organized the garage. I am comtinually amazed and humbled. This weekend, Rianna's sister Ariel, her fiancée Devin, Chris and Rianna came and gave me an HGTV makeover for the great room. I saw that stuff I was used to looking at was out of date. It was cathartic to start purging. With just a few changes, I got a fresh look and now every time I come into the room, it makes me smile. During the day, friends stopped over to view the transformation. It was such a happy day for me ; full of new beginnings. One of the best I've had in twelve weeks.
So today I went back to work feeling much more solid. And yet, at about 10:30, I started to email Glenn a good morning text, to say hi. It caught me way off guard, that my conscious mind could be one place, and yet subconsciously I am still operating from old habits and routines. Wow.

The journey continues.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The first, first day.

Today was the first day of school. I awoke very early this morning, probably with some nervous anticipation, as I have every year,but this year my whole schedule is suddenly brand new and today was the real deal, after a few dry runs last week.

Boo thinks that going for a long walk in the morning is a great idea. He doesn't know that I'm trying to tire him out and get all the "business" done before he has to stay alone 8+hours for the first time ever. He did a great job. I left the TV on, but he hasn't let me know which channel he likes best. Hopefully he picked up some tips from Dr. Phil.

Every year for the previous 10 years, Glenn got up with me the morning of the first day of school. He always kissed me and said" Go make a difference." It became a precious tradition. Today, when I was ready to go, I told him I was off to make a difference. But this year, the start of year 11, I said it to his picture. But he heard me. That I know for sure. I certainly missed his big hugs when I left the house. 

I did fine. Many friends checked in with me to make  sure I was okay. 12:40 was tough. I always called home at that time to check in before I went to lunch . Today I started to make new habits and routines. It has to be. Life has changed and I need to roll with it.

And I will.  But who I am as a teacher is partly the gift that he left to me. He so believed in my calling,  and my ability to share myself with needy adolescents. 

A new year. A new beginning. The first, first day.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013


A butterfly goes through several life-changing stages before it emerges into its final beautiful self.

Although a common and well- known metaphor for change and rebirth, I can't help but think that today was my time to emerge from a caterpillar into a chrysalis. 

A caterpillar's main goal is to grow and survive by eating a lot. (So far it sounds exactly like my summer since Glenn died.:) I have been able to respond to my waves of emotions as they crashed. I could nurture my grief, work through it, or at times, give into it. It was a summer where I was able to concentrate on my own healing. There was no timetable to which I needed to adhere.

But just as a caterpillar reaches maturity from eating and growing and then changing into the next stage, I did too. Today I became a chrysalis.

It was the first day of our teacher workshops today.  It is always an exhausting first day; beginning with a staff "rally" early in the morning, followed by meetings, classroom preparation and culminating in a two-hour open house  to welcome our students and their families. It was the first day I had to truly function. I couldn't retreat as a caterpillar and eat and grow. And the memories...of eating a delivered sandwich together in the parking lot because I didn't have time to come home-of calendars from last year with notes to remind G to "pick up M and A" at 5:00,because their parents both teach and couldn't make the connection-of sharing first impressions of students-and finally every year, of expressing the fact that we were lonely for each other after spending the entire summer together everyday. It was emotional.

And it was hard. I slept about three hours last night, so I awoke tired and edgy. In the swarm of people at the rally I was whisked up by dear friends. Misty shared that she too had been awake thinking of Glenn and memories for  a good share of the night. On my other side sat Trudi, my dear Trudi  who I have loved since Chris was in 6th grade. I was surrounded by support and friends.  It was safe. I was emerging. I managed to plan my lunch around making time to come home to let Boo outside, and I also found time to chat and laugh with my lunch buddies and colleagues. Emerging a bit more. 

Suddenly it was time to do our dog-and-pony- show for the new crew coming in. I had to take a few minutes because the tears were threatening to happen. My self-confidence was wavering. I took a few deep breaths and recovered. I looked out and saw my wonderful neighbors in the audience and made eye-contact..they gave a little wave and a smile. Their support helped me get stronger. Several times, various friends came and just stood in the background and gave me the "look" which relayed that they were there for me. 

The description of a chrysalis(also known as a pupa) says that "although it may look as if nothing is going on, there are big changes happening inside."

Yes. There are big changes happening on the inside. I am growing, healing and will someday totally emerge. Apparently the time frame that a chrysalis remains in that state before the final change to a butterfly, can be months or years.

Emerging in my own time. 

Friday, August 23, 2013

Expecting the Unexpected

I have come to expect the unexpected. Sometimes it is grief at experiencing the familiar alone. Yesterday I went to watch Glenn's grandson in a hockey tournament. We saw the same team last spring at the same arena, and I remarked to Lynn that it felt strange to climb the stairs to the ice, rather than wait for the elevator as Glenn needed to do because of his joint replacements. My legs felt sad and heavy climbing those stairs alone. It was unexpected to feel grief over the simple act of being able to climb the stairs without having to find the elevator.

The other day it was a fascinating surprise as my dear friend who never professes to be a person of faith, shared with me a vision of sorts that she had coming out of anesthetic. In it, she was to pass along a message to me that outlined the reasons we landed in Brainerd, and what Glenn's purpose was in bringing us here.  I think it amazed even her a bit, and although she later tried to explain it away, it was too rich and detailed for it to have been from her "reptilian" brain. Comfort from unexpected places.

Tonight I had great fun with lots of familiar faces at a fund raiser for our fantastic library. It was a chance to rub shoulders with some fairly famous authors who happen to live in Minnesota. :). Remember- I have a t-shirt that says,"Authors are My Rock Stars." Yes. It it a nerdy English teacher thing. I admit it. Anyway, as I was mingling, I saw an old acquaintance. No one I knew terribly well, but we have many mutual friends. Her husband died two years ago under similar circumstances. Finally I heard the words I needed to hear. She told me that my path will not be worse or better, just different. That if I concentrated every day on finding joy, and giving joy, and making a difference,  that I will be okay. And that I should not let anyone dictate the way in which I need to grieve. She also said something that stuck with me: that it is not only the loss of a loved one, but it is also the loss of your dreams. Yes! Lately I have felt so sorry at all that Glenn is missing with our family and friends, and all that we still wanted to do together. Her words gave me strength and hope and comfort in an unexpected place.
Expecting the unexpected.

Monday, August 19, 2013


Well this is quite a first. An encore request.
 Yesterday I reflected on living here in Minnesota for fifteen years. I commented on the fact that even though we never felt we belonged here, that in May, right before Glenn's death, we had decided that we really were home. And everything took on a lighter hue. Suddenly it felt just right.
Today I had two emails from friends asking me to write more about how I got to this place, and what changed to make it feel like home. So today, (in between a few grief spells), as I went about the business of the last week of summer, I thought about it. I looked around. And this is WHY I call Brainerd/Baxter  home, at least for this time in my life.
When I was young, I loved "busy".. Going to the hustle and bustle of downtown Milwaukee was part of my routine. For awhile I worked there everyday. Once I drove to the opposite end of the city for my job; the commute was 45 minutes. I never thought about it. When you grow up and spend adulthood in a metro suburb, you get used to the pace and the numbers of people around you. It was hard to adjust to not having that when we moved here.
I have discovered lately that I have lost that desire. Crowds and noise no longer energize me. What brings me calm? Hearing loons across the lake, looking out my back yard and seeing the woods and the sway of the poplars. The darkness of the night sky and the bright stars and the peace and quiet of nature. Watching the sun rise over not one, but two lakes as I drive to work in the winter. Physical life is easy here. And Costco came to town. What's not to love?.
Rather than 45 minutes, I am at work in 10 minutes. A traffic jam happens on Friday afternoon when everybody is trying to get up to their lake cabins. And then I know all the alternate routes.:)
What took G and I a long time to realize is that there are just as many small minded, bigoted people here as there are in the city and suburbs. The difference is that here they are more audible, because the number of people is that much smaller. In one classroom I can have a very rich kid who lives on a very expensive lake in a very huge house, and a very poor kid, who gets a free lunch and has a dysfunctional home life. That IS diversity in action. And it is one of the things I have come to love. In the city, you have to be intentional about being diverse. It's all here ...everyday. I have to be able to bounce between worlds as a teacher.
But why did we ultimately decide this was home? It was an easy choice, even before that terrible night. We had found our niche of like-minded friends here- we were loved and we loved them in return. And we laughed with how we laughed. We belonged and it felt like home.
And less than 6 hours after his death, you all showed me your true colors for the rest of the week. And I knew, as I know still, that it is, and was,  our friends that have made this home for me.
When I think of all the hours we fretted about what a mistake it was to move here, and yet  how through the years it has proven to be the smartest thing we could have done, personally and professionally, I know now that we were blessed to find our home here.
As my Chris used to say when he was small, "Sweet Home Sweet."

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Home at last.

  It's been nine weeks.  The last time I kept count like this was when I had a baby. It seemed to me that as a new mom you kept count until they were two, and then they were just two. Until they were two and a half...and then they turned three, and they remained that age until age four.

I wonder how long it will be until I stop counting Sundays and dates? Depends. I'm a counter by nature.

 You see, I know that 15 years ago yesterday, we uprooted our new family of two years, from a suburb of Milwaukee, to Brainerd, MN. A decision that seemed so right at the time, and yet over the years, we often amazed ourselves that we actually did it; especially since Emily was starting her junior year in high school. We were either really brave or really stupid, or both.

 We thought we were moving to a utopian small town. We found out that that town doesn't exist. The challenges of being a parish priest were the same here as there. The biggest challenge for my kids here was that they now attended school with the entire spectrum of demographics...a thing they have both verbalized as helpful in their maturity. But an adjustment, for sure.

Glenn and I spent most of the years after the kids were grown plotting about how to get out of this town. We never felt as if we "belonged" here, and yet, we were too old to just dump it and begin again. I have a great job and health insurance. Those are big deals.

This spring I applied for a job in a wealthy suburban Mpls school district. We thought it perfect...out of this small town, closer to three of our five children etc. They offered me the job with more money before we were even back to Brainerd. And yet, we choked. There were the realities of my mom's care, and how we would deal with that. We wanted to see the contract etc. etc.

 Mostly in the end, we realized that we had come to believe that this IS home. I remember going to bed that night to read and the windows were open.  I heard the newly returned loons calling out to each other on the lake across the street. I got up out of bed and told G that we couldn't move. He said, "You  just heard the loons?"

I answered that I had. We both knew that we had truly, finally, found our home.

For good.

And it was, and is, more than okay.

It is wonderful.

We were, and I am, blessed to call this home.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

And So It Begins

I went to work today. For the first time. Yesterday I had such anxiety attacks in anticipation of it that I ended up on the couch all day. I knew that today ended the ability to cocoon in my grief. Real life began again, and even though my students don't appear for two more weeks, there is much to do in preparation. 
 I knew when I walked into school and my classroom for the first time since leaving on June 4th, 12 days before Glenn's death, that I would be struck once again with the harsh reality of his absence. And how when I said goodbye to my room 2818 in June, I had no idea of what was in store for me in the next few weeks. 
Even though it was my job and my career, he was my major support system. Glenn always loved to hear about my students, and news from my fellow teachers. Everyday I called him at 12:40, and again on my way home. Little stuff that I will miss. He was always there for me. 
One of my dear friends pointed out to me today how many "firsts" I've already had; our anniversary, my birthday, his birthday, and now school starting. She expressed heartfelt hope that next year at this time life will be easier for me. I think she is right. I keep trying to look forward. Life goes on. That is good, but it is sad and it still hurts. I continue to feel badly for what he is missing, although I believe he knows it all on some level.
Almost everyday I face doing something for the "first" time, big or small. Getting back into a routine again will be good.  My students keep me laughing (or screaming ..but both work!) My colleagues are such a gift. I will be fine and I will grow. And the days will pass, regardless.
My prayer is that this blog records not just my feelings of great loss and desperation , but also my hope for the future. 
Most days his death has shored me up to make sure I live everyday with the realization of how fragile life is. I don't want to miss a moment. 
Beginning again. 

Thursday, August 8, 2013


Tomorrow, August 9th, would have been Glenn Evans Derby's 70th birthday. The milestone left him perplexed, I think. He loved his life, and he was so full of anticipation and hope for the future that was in front of him with the church, and with our life together as empty-nesters. And yet, I know he heard the clock ticking louder with each passing year.
It was too soon, for all he still wanted to accomplish. And yet, while he was with us, what a life he lived!  How do I adequately celebrate with you the gift that was my husband? 
"8-9-43"- the date rolled off his tongue so many times as pharmacists, doctors and insurance agents asked his birthdate. He had a way of saying it so that it sounded like one big date. :) eightninefortythree.  He loved his name. I remember thinking when he told me that how rare that it was- most people have a complaint about their name.

He was so proud of his life. He lived everyday. Everyday. For the last few months before he died, for some reason,  he felt a need to write out the timelines of his life-houses, jobs, dogs, etc.. And they were so full! It was as if he wanted to remember every detail of his life as a preppy,  a businessman, a ranch hand, a coach, a teacher and finally a priest. He experienced more careers and living in one life than some people do in three or four lives.  We took many road trips during our marriage and I heard so many stories. And sometimes we revisited the places of his memories. I'm so glad that we did. He celebrated every experience, and  he told  me many times how lucky he felt to have had such a great life. many can say that?

I am not creating St. Glenn, as people are inclined to do when they have lost someone dear to them. Glenn was not perfect, indeed which one of us is, but I can tell you this. He loved being a father and grandfather more than any other role in his life. Was he perfect at these roles? No. No one is. We are all flawed, even with  the people we love so much. This spring there was some early planning  of a reunion with all the children to celebrate his big birthday. He asked me on the night that he would die, as we chatted on the porch, whether I thought that the event would happen. I answered that I believed that they all loved him and would come if they possibly could. Little did we know at that moment, that they would all gather six days later for his funeral.
With the eensiest bit of hindsight I'm starting to possess, I can now see that Glenn wasn't as healthy recently as he was even a year ago.  He didn't have a lot of stamina, and I had begun to notice how often he wanted me to drive. There was a vitality that was slowly seeping away. He fought hard to get it back most days, but he felt himself aging, and he didn't like it at all. He kept looking for a way to fix it.

Shortly after he died, my friend Misty ventured out with a theory, knowing that it was either going to bring me peace, or upset me. She took the risk. Knowing that we were dog people, she proposed that Glenn's relatively premature death was comparable to the life spans of big dogs vs. little dogs. You buy a large breed dog, knowing their life span isn't as long as a toy poodle, She pointed out to me that you don't  see a lot of people in their '80s who were the size of Glenn. She spoke my language. I could get my head around that reasoning and it still brings me peace.
My friend Sandy, a science teacher, made the analogy that Glenn's life was like a giant blue star- a particular kind of huge star that burns very intensely and brightly and then burns out before the other less bright stars. So visual to me.Again...comforting.

I am reflecting tonight because tomorrow promises to be a busy day, full of celebration as I gather  with my children and grandchildren to go to a preseason Vikings football game. After much soul searching as to how to mark the date, it came up like a beacon in my daughter Emily's mind. Who liked football more than Glenn? He never showed a lot of team loyalty, he just loved the game.

There is a Jewish salutation that is used as a toast-...L'chaim-it means...TO LIFE.
 Here's to you Glenn Evans Derby. L'chaim. Happy birthday. I will love you forever.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Breath of Heaven

When I was growing up, I was surrounded by music. My mother loved Louis Armstrong and usually had his music playing while she went about her business in our home.   Family lore says that on the day I came home from the hospital, as I was not expected to have been born alive, she danced around the living room to Louis in her joy. My mother was always singing, as did her parents. I know a lot of old songs. I also know just about every lyric for every song that was popular during my youth. Give me a few notes and I'll take it away in off-pitch singing.  Glenn used to ask me where I'd been storing it in my head all those years. I don't  know...but I guess it explains why I always have a song in my is the "tune in my head" gene. 

This is how today went down.  I felt weird when I got up...I was restless the last few hours of sleep and when I got up I felt listless and edgy, as if I'd had too much coffee, when in fact I hadn't had any. I got irritated with myself. I felt like my blog was turning into a blah-blah fest and I was sick of hearing myself wallow. The more I decided I was done with wallowing, the edgier I became. I started day one of this 30 day meditation program with Oprah:)- todays message was, "Today I will be open to the presence of miracles." Couldn't feel it. I finally went outside and transplanted a few perennials  from my daughter's home. Every shovel exhausted me. When I finished I came inside and proceeded to have a full-blown anxiety attack. My pulse was racing, not dangerously fast, but I swore I could hear my heart beating,  and I felt like I was going to jump out of my skin. I couldn't stop replaying the trauma of that night. 

This is where the miracles started occurring. I went on line to research grief counselors in our area and found that our hospital has someone who does just that. I called for an appointment and found out it is free and that she will visit me a few times. She was so comforting and told me that often times our symptoms mimic the symptoms that caused our loved one to die, and that I wasn't going crazy. She also told me that when I feel like that, it is like it happened 2 seconds ago, because that is my truth. I started to feel better, but I still felt like I couldn't get a breath.

Last week I was offered and accepted a gift of a massage. Not a deep tissue massage, but more of a healing spiritual massage. I went for it today and found another miracle. I cried at first...all the pain started to come up.  The prayers and the energy being directed at me started a process. And I began to breathe again. Really breathe. Big, long, oxygen rich breaths. I felt so much pain release. And I realized that just now, even though I've thought I was on my way, has healing begun. It's not there yet, not by a long stretch, but there is peace in a place where there wasn't before. 

And that's how this ties into singing. Before Amy Grant went totally country she sang a beautiful song, really from the perspective of Mary, mother of Jesus as she was riding through the darkness to give birth.
The lines from the song that keep playing over and over in my head tonight are these: 

" Breath of heaven, hold me together, be forever near me, breath of heaven. 
Breath of heaven , lighten my darkness, pour over me your holiness, breath of heaven."

Being able to take deep, life-giving breaths today and tonight- priceless.. 

I truly believe it came from heaven.  

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Out of the Litter

When my children were very small,  I didn't work outside the home. As a hobby, I got involved with dog obedience and therapy dog training, with my wonderful Golden Retriever, Megan. At the time, it was a way for me to combine spending time with her and other dogs, which I loved, with a community of people outside of my neighborhood. The women I worked with bred Goldens, so I became familiar with the breed and its characteristics. 

For instance, the perfect day to take a Goldie out of the litter is day 49. Puppies usually don't leave their siblings and mom willingly. They are usually anxious and afraid, and probably lonely. I've spent many a first night or more cuddling a newly welped puppy.

Today is day 49 for me. 

I feel like those puppies. Every now and then, (okay more than that), it hits me that I really am on my own. I had such a fun day with my daughter Emily yesterday fixing up her new house and chatting about my grandsons etc. And a great dinner and evening  with Emily(Paul was out of town), Chris and Rianna. When I went to bed, I still wanted to reach for the phone to call Glenn and tell him the news from the kids and what time I expected to be home today. 

Today I went to Target  for "stuff". Suddenly I was pushing the cart along and I got the realization that it's just ME now. Sometimes it just hits me. Boom. There is no US anymore. That is so sad. 
I wonder when I will stop knowing exactly how many days and weeks it has been. When does it become old(er) news?

I spent the evening celebrating the retirement of a good friend. For the first time in 49 days, I signed the card with just my name. 

I'm just leaving the litter. :). It's lonely. But just like those pups, I am anticipating that there is a lot of life still to be lived, and a lot of laughs to be had. I'm getting there. One day at a time. 

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Seeking the balance.

Stress. It's a word that has been floating around all of my adult life. I remember when it started being blamed for physical symptoms somewhere in my young adulthood, and hearing people who were my age now at the time, poo-pooing it as a wimpy excuse to get out of working.

I've had stressful times in my life; a divorce, a move to a new state, jobs that went belly-up, financial hardships and usually if I suffered physical symptoms-sleeplesssness, weight loss, etc.- I could assign them to what was going on in my life. A certain amount of stress goes with any successful career and life. It is part of living  and most of the time the symptoms can be directly managed through lifestyle changes. Mind over matter. Usually.

I've had a terrible week this week with some  family upheaval, exacerbated by being in a chronic state of grief. But this is what is weird. Outwardly I do not feel anxious or stressful, and I'm not aware that I appear to look as if I am. 

And yet over the last week or so, I developed all these scaly,  itchy  little rashes on my legs and neck. Convinced I had skin cancer, (truly), I begged for an appointment with the nurse at the dermatologist's office yesterday. She examined them and then proceeded to ask me if I had been under any stress lately. Um....why yes I have. My husband died in front of my eyes six weeks ago, suddenly and unexpectedly. (I feel like I'm pulling out an assault rifle, when all they are expecting is a BB gun).  Apparently I have something called Lichens, which is basically eczema on crack; it is brought on by stress. She injected the spots with steroids. Skin issues totally unrelated to anything environmental.

Today I was CERTAIN I had a urinary infection. Unmistakeable signs. Went to Urgent Care-nope....again...the doctor asked me if I had been under stress lately. Apparently the frequent urge to urinate is a sign of stress. 

What this proves to me is the absolute power of our minds and emotions over our physical being. Even though I don't feel consciously anxious or stressed, my body is responding to the violent assault it has been under emotionally. And although I KNOW :) it is not the late night snacking that has caused me to GAIN weight when I'm supposed to be losing it, I really do think there is a piece of my metabolism that has shut down in protection. That's my 10 pound excuse anyway, and I'm sticking to it. 

The VERY good news is this. Our brains and our minds and our emotions are ALWAYS seeking balance.  My inner-self and my emotions, being inherently healthy, will find that balance and acceptance and well-being, in time. I will be okay. It is like having a really deep will heal from the inside out, and eventually, although there will be a scar, it will be healthy skin again.

What an amazing thing it is to be human. Such a gift this life is. Even when it is out of balance.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Walking on the Wire

Who knew that this journey would make me a member of the flying Wallenda's? 

Most of the time I have my balance ...I'm holding the stick that helps me walk the wire. Everyday. Carefully. 

And then a phone call, a painful conversation- and I fell, plunging towards the net.

I didn't bounce back very quickly today.  I fell head first into the net. And I stayed there for a long time.

With help from my friends, I climbed back out again.

I'm still working up my nerve to walk the tight wire.

Thought I had it made.

I just don't  need to get pushed off anymore; I can't do it.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Stairway To Heaven

If you grew up in the 1960's and 1970's as I did, you would know the group called Led Zeppelin. Most of their music was too "acid rock" for my taste, but everybody pretty much loved the song, "Stairway To Heaven." I'm pretty sure it was the theme for one of my proms in high school.

It's been six weeks today. 42 days.

 And if there really was a stairway to heaven Glennee..this is what I would climb up and tell you.

In the words of Sally Fields, " They liked you, they really liked you!" You gave off a confident air, but I knew that underneath that  air was a person amazed when someone liked you and befriended you. You didn't trust too many people because of past hurts. I have tried to tell those whom you did trust and love, just what they meant to you.   The things that have been shared with me about you? You would be so humbled.  And people really miss you. A lot. You are so not forgotten by family or by our friends.

Thanks for teaching me so much. Most of the times the lessons were due to your physical limitations, but so far I've changed the furnace and fridge filters(I kept meaning to do it), knew who to call to have the septic pumped, and had two bonfires. I have to tell you I got overwhelmed trying to clean up your work benches and shop. That was never my territory.  By the way, did you ever throw anything away out there? I don't think so. And we have another dead tree.

Our van is sitting neglected at the dealership...probably until they figure out what to do with it. I avoid driving past it because it makes me sad.

Dr. Freeman told me when I took Momo in to see him on Friday that he knew for sure  that I couldn't have saved you that night. He also told me that you wouldn't want me to struggle with the thought that I could have done something differently. My head knows that. Hopefully someday my heart will catch up.

I used to tell you that I could have written the words to Celine Dion's Because You Loved Me.  
I used to give you the lyrics on a regular basis. I'm doing okay. Even a little better than that. Because you loved me. How lucky and blessed was I?

Know that I keep trying to live everyday with the joy of life-the joie de vivre- that you so embraced and witnessed. My mom has a picture of you on our old pontoon with your arms spread wide and a big smile; she says that it is how she likes to remember you, because that is who you were. 

So now I'll walk back down the stairway to this life-you stay there.
 I understand where you are in a way limited by my own mortality, but I know it brings me peace to know you are free, happy and loved. And I hear you and feel your presence everyday. Stay with me.

Someday I will ascend the stairway and join you.

Until then, know that you live on in my heart, and in the hearts of so many.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Great Paradox

My life right now continues to amaze me. It still feels far from normal, even after doing things like getting my hair cut today and all of the other usual activities life requires.

Years ago I worked with this awesome woman whose husband was earning his 2nd doctorate at the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee. She used to joke that he was a paradox (pair-a-docs). At the time I laughed-and then I went to look up what the word meant. :).

I know now. The paradox in my life right now is profound.

I am surrounded by the world's most wonderful people; my children, mother, brother, sister, extended family and my dear, dear friends- the extent of their concern and love humbles me. Today I had coffee with Sandy and discovered that a group of my friends had left me a landscaping certificate hidden on the porch, and I didnt even know about it was there!  I was humbled. Glenn and I always planted things in memory of loved ones.

Another friend who bantered with G about the color of our famous adirondack chairs last summer(probably 25 Facebook exchanges-minimum) painted a chair the fuchsia pink she always vied for, in his honor today. Again, so humbling. He would have laughed so hard and been so happy.

I had a "moment" this afternoon of profound grief, but I knew I didn't have to go home alone. I could go to Sally and Jim's until it passed. Amazing.

Everywhere I turn, people are reaching out. And I am so blessed.

 I had one of my "disbelief" days today; where I played and replayed every moment of that last day, and how I could  have possibly changed the outcome. Logically I know that I couldn't, but I am exhausted by his absence. This new path is freaking hard work.

And at the same time, I felt so loved and so lucky and  so happy. For having had Glenn, and for Boo:), and for ALL of the dear people in my life, both family and friends. Laughing on the outside, crying on the inside.

Such a paradox.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Another step forward.

Glenn Derby LOVED cars and trucks. Really. I was going to list all the vehicles we have owned but it would be too embarrassing. :) His last desire,and the subject of many daydreams, was a Ford F150 pickup truck. He (with help from me:)) could never figure out how to justify that purchase at this stage in our lives.

Every vehicle we bought had size requirements. As you know, Glenn was a huge man with a St. Bernard head. He was 6'5" and his height was all in his torso; in fact his legs were super short. So car size was imperative. In his head, Glenn always wanted to be a 5'10",  180 pound runner. Truly. He wanted so badly to fit in a Prius or something small and economical. Impossible. So when we had a chance to lease a van two years ago, and he was comfortable in it, he was thrilled. It was a "normal" sized car in his mind.  Which probably explains how we got stuck in such a dumb deal. We drive way too much for a lease and indeed, we were way over mileage.

Suddenly I was stuck with a van with a big payment and too many miles, and I realized I needed  to cut my loss. I couldn't get comfortable with the choice of just handing over  the keys and a fat check to the dealer and driving my mom's 10 year old Acura. Her car is a beautiful car, but I realized I don't  have the emotional energy to deal with an older car that is more car than I need,  plus there is no dealer in our town. I am selling it to my son and daughter- in- law.   Psychologically I felt that I needed a new car with lots of warranties. And maybe a new start. 

I did something today that I have never done alone in my whole adult life. I bought a new car.  No "co-signer." About 6 months ago on one of our many journeys to Alexandria, Glenn asked me what car I would buy if I didn't have to consider his size. Since I didn't share his love for cars,  I had no idea what to reply. He told me that he thought a Honda CRV would be a perfect car for me. I never thought about that conversation again until last week. It was a weird fleeting comment. 

Before I walked into the dealership last week, I did my homework, as I'd been taught by Glenn. There is a way to find out what dealers pay for cars. I looked it up. I asked my accountant-a purely objective outside source-if my idea made sense. I asked my friend Jim, and my brother Chris if my idea was sound. I asked Ben, who knows cars for a living....Rav or CRV? I looked at which cars hold their value the best. And I ran the numbers again and again.  Yesterday, Sunday, I went back to the Honda dealer when I knew no one would be there. Last week I was looking at the stripped down version. As I stood there yesterday and looked at what a little more money would buy me, and how battered I felt, and how long I intended to drive this car, I decided to get the upgrade.

And this morning I strapped on my holster and went to Dodge. Okay I went to Honda. I had them write up their best deal without telling them what my financial plan would be. After an hour, I told them that I needed  them to absorb all the negative equity from my van, plus I wanted the manufacturer's discount. They sputtered. They said that couldn't happen. I shrugged and walked out. They called back three hours later with a deal. It took all day. 

At 5:30, I blew a kiss at the white van as I drove  away in my new Honda CRV. Once again, I felt like I was leaving him behind. In my continuing conversation with him, I felt a thumbs up. 

 I sobbed half the way home. 

And then  Helen Reddy started singing her song, "I Am Woman..."

And I smiled. 

Sunday, July 21, 2013

And Through the Darkness Came the Light.

Most of my close friends are current or former teaching colleagues. I treasure them deeply,  and so  did Glenn. To them he was my husband, their friend, sports afficiendo, nice guy, "Manny"(man-nanny) etc. Because of his retirement , not many of them saw him in the role that I know he identified himself with the most, and that was a person selected and committed to be a priest in God's church.

The Episcopal church is an anomaly in this part of the country, which is highly populated by Roman Catholics and Lutherans. Our church is derived from the Church of England, which was formed during the English Reformation of the 16th century, when the papacy was challenged and dismissed. Nevertheless, our roots are heavily liturgical, but our message and theology is more protestant, liberal and inclusive. In the United States, it is a very old denomination, found primarily in the East and South.

We believe in the sacrament of ordination; rather than just being a job, thatthrough the laying on of hands during  ordination you are joined to a long and unbroken succession. . He used  to say that being a priest wasn't just what he did, it was who he was. Glenn wore that every day of his life, in his heart and soul. He wasn't one to wear his collar except on church business. He was fairly modest about his calling, believing that his actions would lead people to ask about his vocation, which is mostly what always happened.. (I just have to share an aside: When we were still in Milwaukee, I went with him once to visit someone in a Catholic hospital after church;he still had on his black shirt and collar. I waited for him in the lobby, and when he came out I planted a big old kiss- right on the lips. The shocked look on the greeters was worth it...he didn't find it funny.)

Today, I took a huge breath and drove to our church in Alexandria, MN. The place where our hearts had found a church home. The place where on the morning of the day that he would die, Glenn celebrated one final Eucharist. I went to enjoy a concert from the summer series they are doing to raise money to repair their beautiful pipe organ. I didn't think I was ready for a service yet, but I wanted to see our dear friends, and I thought it would be a safe first step. It was. I was so happy to see everyone, and to walk in their love. At first when we were outside, I thought that it would be a piece of cake. And then we went into the sanctuary for the concert.
There he was.

Glenn's  essence, his aura was everywhere. I could see him on the altar, and where he used to get his big feet stuck in the kneeler.  I could see where he used to preach and how he looked when he sang "Surely the presence of the The Lord  is in this place..." after communion.  I felt his presence so vividly and it hurt. A lot. And I cried.

But just  when I thought I couldn't do it, that the pain was too great, I looked at the sanctuary light. The light that represents Jesus; it burns 24/7/365, over the reserved sacrament. I've seen sanctuary lights above the altar all my life and never thought much about them, but today it brought me such peace. I felt the presence of Jesus. I was surrounded by people I have come to truly love, who knew the part of Glenn that was his heart and his soul. They knew his idiosyncracies and his humanness and they loved him anyway. I always got the impression that they truly believed, as we did, that he was called to be with them. And so when I felt a fresh wave of pain, I stared at the light, and at the giant wooden cross. And once again I felt the peace that passes all understanding. May you rest in peace too, my dear Glennee.

I'll keep looking to the light.

" Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.
Psalm 119:105

Saturday, July 20, 2013

I Guess It's Really True.

Shortly after Glenn's death, a dear friend sent me Joan Didian's book, A Year of Magical Thinking.  The author's husband suffered an inexplicable and unexpected  cardiac arrest at home, very similar to Glenn's attack. Her book is a touching memoir of her journey through grief.

I read it soon after Glenn's death, and I remember reacting to one part in particular. She was hesitant to give her husband's clothes away because she kept thinking that he would need them when he got back. At the time I scoffed a bit, knowing in my own mind that G wasn't coming back. And yet, as I move forward, each decision to move or change something of his,even when I instigate it, or want to do it, has a little wave of panic wrapped around it. As if I realize a little more each time that he REALLY isn't coming back. I thought I knew it, but five weeks later I think I'm just starting to believe it. And it is weird.

Yesterday I met with our accountant, the man who has done our taxes for a long time, and knew all the clergy benefits available. How odd to be seeing him in July, and alone. He gave me the bad news of how much more I need to withhold (a lot) now that Glenn's meager pension is added onto my modest income. He also gave me the good news that I will be financially okay. He showed me what to pay off, and what to put in a nest egg. He also confirmed as logical my ideas about what to do about the damn lease on our van, (one of those "what were we thinking Glenn" questions...).  It seemed so weird not to pick up the cell phone on the way home and call him to share what I had learned. 

When I returned  Glenn's almost brand new phone (remember he called it his "phablet"?) to Best Buy, they graciously refunded me more than the price of the phone; I wasn't sure why, but I was good with that. Today on a whim, I went there and  used the gift card to buy myself an inexpensive Samsung (I'm loyal because they gave my school 100k)small laptop- much more portable than the old Dell we have. It felt good but weird...electronics were Glenn's gig. Again, so strange not to come through the door and show him what I chose. And weirder still to set it up by myself.

On a lighter note, every time I accomplish something independently I hear myself singing the old Helen Reddie song "I Am Woman Hear Me Roar..." 

And then I look around to see if it is really (still) true. 

And it is. 

Friday, July 19, 2013

57 Shades of Gray. :)

My parents were married in June 1945, immediately after my father graduated from medical school. Very soon thereafter, my father was sent to Okinawa as a captain and physician in the Army. After his stint in the army was over (he was not a happy participant and remained a pacifist most of his life), they went "home" to Cincinnati, Ohio. 
There they joined an Episcopal church  called St. Michael and All Angels and became dear and best friends with the rector and his wife; a young couple who themselves had recently returned from five years as prisoners of war while serving as missionaries in Japan. Their names were Campbell and Jane Gray. I would step out and say that they were probably my parents' dearest friends of all time. There is a reason my middle name is Campbell, after my godfather. 
The years pass, children are born, the Grays return to Florida and my parents settled in Wisconsin. Eventually Cam and Jane's oldest son Frank attended  Episcopal seminary at Nashotah House, which is just outside of Milwaukee. He and his wife Karen were an huge part of my life growing up as a child and teenager, and remain as a sort of older brother and sister to me to this day. I love  them dearly.
The miracle comes in that their daughters, Katy and Libby, both of whose actual birth days I remember well, have over the years become "god sisters" to me. (Our words). I was 13 when Katy was born, which is negligible at this stage in life. Having Katy and 3 of her children here was like sharing 2 days with precious family. We talked (a lot) laughed, snorted, shared secrets,called Libby so she could join in, went to Nisswa ( KGW wanted to say) and contined the joy that our families have had together for almost 70 years. She gave me the courage to do a few firsts- I sat in Glenn's chair on the porch and barbecued for the first time since that fated evening. I was safe.
Glenn and I were blessed to spend time with Frank and Karen, Libby and Sam at Emily's wedding in May. 
For all of my 57 years of life,  I have loved a shade or two of Gray. 
Thank you.