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.