... a voice for those who mourn the loss of a soul mate
"He felt now that he was not simply close to her, but that he did not know where he ended and she began." - Leo Tolstoy

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

New Traditions

I can think of no time more steeped in tradition than Christmas. When I was growing up, Thanksgiving marked the beginning of the season and I learned to celebrate it with the Macy’s parade. Seeing Santa Claus come down the street on his sleigh meant it was time to kick into high gear preparing for that one big day. I still tend to tear up when I see this year’s Santa waving to the crowd. It is tradition.

Immediately after Thanksgiving, we started with cookies. My step sister and I would pull favorite recipes out of their year-long storage and then ransack Woman’s Day and Family Circle magazines for new ones. With our list close at hand we would spend the first couple of weeks making and freezing cookie dough. The week before Christmas meant baking dozens of delicious and creative cookies. It was tradition.

The tree always had to be large and fresh and generously strung with carefully placed strands of silver tinsel that seemed to find its way around the house. In those days, we did not have the option of artificial trees but I’m not sure we would have ever gone that route in any case. After all, it was tradition.

Shopping meant lots of presents under the tree, most of them very inexpensive and some, like underwear and neckties, necessities. But, wrapping those simple gifts in on-so-creative ways (ideas culled again from Woman’s Day and Family Circle) transformed each one into something very special. That was tradition too and I spent hours at it.

At some point, the family would pile into the car and my dad would drive us around to see all the lovely Christmas lights. This was a carry-over tradition from my earliest days in Texas when the highlight of the season was walking around downtown Dallas to see the exciting displays in all the store windows, especially the animated ones at Penney’s and Neiman Marcus. Yet another important tradition.

Is it any wonder that when I married, I brought those traditions with me? The tree always had to be large, fresh and smothered in that insane silver tinsel. I drove myself crazy trying to bake cookies while holding down a full-time job. Shopping in December became my second full-time job. After all, I needed, really needed to let my new family know I could make Christmas something truly special. I so was exhausted from all the preparation that I forgot the important part of Christmas when it finally arrived – family.

Well, as I have gotten older and our family has changed, I have started allowing some old traditions to fade away and some new ones to creep in. Some of the old ones are easier to release than others.
The cookies and tinsel went first. That was easy. I realized I did not need the extra calories contained in too many Christmas cookies and my family did not seem to care one way or the other. And frankly, the tinsel went because it not only took forever to put on the tree, one strand at a time, but was also most unwelcome when it kept appearing in the house – in August!

The drive to see lights never caught on. After all, when you live in the country as we did for many years, it takes forever to find anyone who has decorated outside.

As our family scattered and grew with new spouses, grandchildren and then great-grandchildren, I eventually learned to curb the obsession over too many gifts and creative wrapping. Quality, I found, matters more than quantity. Instead of having a gift-opening frenzy, we introduced a new tradition. Rather than buying gifts, the adults now have a spirited gift exchange game that we all love. And, rather than ship gifts out of state, our far-flung families now make donations to favorite charities in the name of the family.

Eventually, the tree, that centerpiece of the holiday, changed too. It was the hardest tradition to change. The year we left on December 26 for a cruise, I was reluctant to leave a fire trap unattended in our house and so bought our first artificial tree. But at 7 ½ feet, it was still massive! Several years ago, I threatened to have no tree at all as that heavy tree (the second one I had bought) was just too much to drag out of storage and set up. A new tradition started that year. Our kids insisted we had to have the tree with all the very special ornaments I had collected over the years. That was the year Dale and Dennie started coming over early in December to assemble the tree for us.

This year was to be no different. Until cancer took our Dale in June and our Dennie spent most of the year fighting her own cancer. As we approached this holiday, celebrating in any way just did not seem to matter. I think we are all still grieving too deeply. I was torn. Do I soldier on, keeping to all the old traditions as though nothing has changed when in fact, everything has? Or can I get away with doing nothing, which is what would be easiest? Please, can’t we just ignore Christmas this once? Traditions be damned!

Still, tradition is a powerful beastie. Too many others are invested in continuing as we have before. One by one, they have let me know they plan to be here as always. And so, in honor of the son we have lost, we are keeping most of the old traditions alive. We will come together for Christmas Eve. We will have the same foods, the same drinks. We will have the gift exchange and it will be raucous. Christmas lights already adorn Dale’s house. His widow and son made sure of that because he always loved them so. It is, after all, tradition.

This year there is something new, however, driven by necessity. For the first time in my life, the tree is not only artificial, it is also a mere 5 ½ feet tall. It is lightweight and easy for us to handle without help. I have it decorated now, but my most special ornaments will remain in storage. The ones on the tree are lovely, just not the oldest or most meaningful. Perhaps this new, smaller tree will become tradition in time.

And in the gift exchange, there will be an extra gift, a ball cap, to be given to someone who would not otherwise get anything for Christmas. That will be in honor of Dale.

Changing the way things have always been done is never easy but it is inevitable, and we must somehow find a way to adapt. I think there can be comfort in the old ways, but sometimes, as it is with grief, they can be painful reminders of what has been lost, what will never be again. For me, a smaller Christmas tree and a simple ball cap are new traditions and adaptations to the changes this year has brought. They are small ones to be sure, but still they are changes I will have to get used to. It is one small way I have found to keep moving forward when all I want to do is stop.

Friday, December 1, 2017


Remember that song made famous by Barbra Streisand about memories?  The Way We Were?
Or the song about memories in the play Cats?
Both of those songs reminisce about times gone by and how precious those times are now - living on, if only in our mind.
Which begs the question - if we don't remember them - did they happen?
Would it matter?
What happens when there is no one left to remember?
Why am I waxing so philosophically?
I suppose it could be because of the holiday season that is now upon us but I suspect it's more than that.
This past week my Christmas present from John arrived. No, I know he didn't buy it. But every year I buy something special for myself that I know he would have purchased for me if he were here. This year it was an Amazon Echo Show. I'm a sucker for gadgets and John knows that so yes, he would have succumbed to all my hints and bought me this.
One of the things that this particular device does is play songs with lyrics and videos which is something the Echo Dot [yes, I have those too] does not do.
So as soon as I had it all set up and functioning I told my device whom I named "Computer" [I am also a Star Trekkie] to play songs from the 80's - the time that John and I were in our early years. I wanted to go down that memory lane.
Computer did not disappoint. The first song she played was Randy Travis' "I'm Gonna Love You Forever" which I also took as a sign from John [my post about that].
I have been listening to that station a lot this week since then. And, yes, the memories have been flooding, as you can imagine.
But there is more to this post than that.
As I sit here now, widowed, all I have now are my memories. And when I forget them, then what?
Already there are things that I fear I am forgetting or not remembering correctly and I don't have John to ask.
My aunt and my mother are both suffering from advanced Alzheimer's. They no longer remember us - my cousins and my siblings - their children. Our family memories are now entrusted to us kids. And we too do not know everything or may remember things differently from each other and we have no one to ask.
After my mother-in-law became ill and subsequently passed away, it was up to me to clean out her house and decide what to keep, what to discard. There were boxes of old photos as you can imagine. Some people I knew. Most I didn't. I kept all the ones I knew and a good portion of the ones I had no clue what or who they were about. There was something about them that just compelled me to keep them. These were people who were important to other people at one time. It felt sacrilegious to toss them away. Consequently, I now have a box of photographs of strangers that I am safeguarding and I don't know why. Somebody after me will most likely toss them out.
But memories are important.
They evoke feelings, emotions, tears, smiles, heartbreak, laughter...
When all is said and done, they are the last of our personal histories that we cherish, even more than things. Photos disintegrate, things break but memories live on as long as we do.
So, I cherish my memories, even if sometimes they bring a tear.
Because they also bring a smile and feelings of love.
And I will cherish that until my last breath.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

You Are Not Alone

I never know when something will remind me of how sorrow can affect life. On Thanksgiving Day, I was watching the Macy’s parade, a tradition I love. Usually, I multi-task and watch bits of the parade as I prepare for the day ahead. As always, NBC featured songs from various Broadway shows. When the song, You Will Be Found from the show Dear Evan Hansen came on, I heard the lyrics and immediately stopped what I was doing as I listened to this remarkable piece of music. By the time the song was over, I was on the verge of tears.

The song starts with the plaintive line, “Have you ever felt like nobody was there?” Now, that is an attention-grabber! How could I not think of friends and family who have lost loved ones and are left feeling like there is nobody there? How could I not be reminded of my own sorrows and how I bury them so deeply?

Grief is isolating. That is an undeniable fact. No matter how hard we try to maintain connections, solitude inevitably creeps in and we are left alone with our sorrow, our memories of what is no more. The feelings can be so painful they become paralyzing and solitude is easier than moving to open the door. The one you love is gone and your heart is numb. The memorials are a thing of the past. The “official” mourning period is over. And one by one, people have drifted away. Perhaps you have turned them away, but the fact remains that it is so easy to feel completely alone. These are the dark days.

But there is light there. You have but to open your eyes and see it. You are not truly alone. Friends still love you. The truest ones never stop searching for ways to touch you, to ease your grief. As you wander, lost, in the dark forest of your sorrow, they are sending search parties out, calling your name in hopes you will hear. And one day, when you are ready to begin healing, you will hear them. You will be found.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Black Friday

My husband used to get so amused and would affect a slightly superior demeanor as my sister and I perused the Black Friday ads after enjoying a sumptuous Thanksgiving feast. We’d make clandestine plans to meet at 5AM to staunchly assault the bastions of retail harbingers so we could claim those coveted spoils of victory. It was a game we loved to play. We would shop early and then indulge in mugs of hot chocolate and people watch the other shoppers, smug in the knowledge that we had accomplished our goals. We were usually on the hunt for just a couple of items, but we enjoyed the shared sister play date.

Years ago, there was a pre-lit Christmas tree listed for $11.99 on sale at Walmart. My sister needed a tree, so I played wheelchair roller derby against reckless shopping cart drivers to triumphantly locate the sale display. The stack of boxed trees was dwindling fast. I managed to pull one box off the pallet and guarded it until she could arrive with a shopping cart. There wasn’t a sample tree set up on display, so we were purchasing her new tree sight unseen.

When she and my brother-in-law assembled the tree for the first time, she dubbed it a Charlie Brown Christmas tree. It stood just over 5 feet tall and although it seemed a little skimpy and the greenery barely covered those flimsy metal branches, the multi-colored lights gave it such a festive look. Once she added some treasured ornaments, and you squinted your eyes just slightly, it looked very acceptable. And she said they would probably only use it a year or two and then purchase a better one. Guess what? Years later, they are still using that same Charlie Brown tree. It has become a Christmas tradition for them and I imagine it serves to remind them of the joy they share even during thinner times. Some of the needles have been shed and only one strand of the pre-lit lights still work but they add additional strands and that little tree is a annual reflection of their love for each other.

Their tree reminds me of a few special relationships I’ve been privileged to observe. The outer packaging might be a bit worn and perhaps misshapen in places, but the sparkle radiates love and joy. When you are in the company of one of these special couples, you see a strong friendship confirming trust, admiration freely given, and humor being shared. They seem to embrace life. They are people you enjoy being around and you might also envy a little bit because, as in my case, I think that should still be us.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Another Thanksgiving

And so the Holiday Season is upon us once again.
For those of us who are missing loved ones, it's bittersweet - possible emphasis on the bitter.
When everyone else is gathering family around them and celebrating and laughing, we are reminded all too well of those who are missing.
And while we don't begrudge anyone their happiness, it hurts.
Sometimes, it hurts a lot.
I have found that it helps me to remember the good times and how lucky I know I am to have had those times.
I spent part of today scanning in some more old photographs. I do this every so often. It takes me a while to go through all the albums and envelopes of photos because I tend to stay and look at the pictures, immersing myself in them, going back in time and actually remembering all that came before and after each photo.
There is the time that John worked so painstakingly on designing and making a stained glass window for us.
And our first Thanksgiving dinner.
Our many vacations.
The older photos are not great quality and I worry they will deteriorate even further so I try to preserve the good ones as much as I can.
But even in their less than perfect state, they still trigger the memories, the feelings, and those will always be crystal clear and precious.
So today, I am thankful.
Thankful for the love we shared.
Thankful for the love and relationship we still share.
Thankful for the memories.
Thankful for the love.
Thankful for a man so good that I sought to be good too.
Thankful for the person he helped me to become.
Happy Thanksgiving, John.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

First Holidays

After our son, Dale, died this summer, I could only think about getting through one day at a time. For the longest time, I think we were all just numb and trying our best to survive those first mournful days. Slipping into task mode somehow made the first few weeks a little easier.

First, there was the funeral and all that went into preparing to have family fly in from distant cities. But then everyone left and gradually, life slipped into a different rhythm, one without our Dale in it. I had not realized how much we relied on him to be there – until the first time I needed help with something around the house and thought, oh Dale can help with it. But then reality hit, and we had to find another way to get the job done. We managed but barely.

There have been a lot of those firsts. Birthdays were especially hard. Dale passed in June and in September we were still aching in sorrow as we moved into what the family has always thought of as a birthday season. Our daughter’s birthday in September, several grandchildren and finally Dale’s and mine a mere week apart. They all felt oddly empty but when Dale’s birthday came, we gathered together anyway for breakfast and honored a life cut short too soon. It was a way to keep the connection alive for just a little longer.

Now we are moving into the big holiday season with Thanksgiving this week, then Christmas and a new year. This holiday is complicated. With Dale gone and our daughter, Dennie, fresh out of her stem cell transplant and still way too vulnerable to infection, I am struggling with the idea of celebrating Christmas Eve, what has always been our family’s biggest day. With rare exceptions, our extended family gathers at our house on that day every year and it is usually a raucous affair filled with high spirits, gifts for the children, food, and a silly gift exchange game for the adults. Children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren in one house have always made for a happy time.

This year, I cannot seem to find the energy to even begin. I find myself debating over every step of Christmas preparation. Put up the tree or don’t (for years, Dale and Dennie helped us set it up)? Keep the Christmas Eve family gathering or not? Will anyone really care if I skip buying books for each of the children? Will I? Maybe gift cards will be enough. And all the while my heart is screaming, not this year!

Still, I have made some first steps. I have made sure my grandchildren know they and their families are still invited to be here. I have started a shopping list. And most importantly, I have committed to keeping our family together through this holiday season even though my heart is not in it.

I find myself wondering how my friends made it through all the firsts after their soul mates died. I wonder how my daughter survived that first holiday after her first husband died in December and left her alone with their young son. I worry about how my daughter-in-law and Dale’s children will manage through this holiday. Perhaps the only way is just one day at a time, one moment at a time.

In a recent interview, Saturday Night Live comedian Kenan Thompson said something about the holidays that shifted my perspective on holidays after a loss. Referring to this time of year as a season to take stock, he said, “It’s the time of year where everybody remembers what if feels like to love others and be thankful. The joys of the little things come flying back."

So, that is how I am viewing this first Christmas without Dale. I will remember how much I love our family and treasure the precious moments we have with them. I will be grateful our sweet daughter is again on the road to health. And I will remember all the joys of the years we were given with Dale. He will surely be with us through every moment of this first Christmas without him.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

The circle of life

It's not often when you can pinpoint the exact moment when your life changed.
Yes, there are occasions that mark momentous events - marrying your best friend, the birth of a child, the death of your soul mate.
But those are the obvious ones.
I am talking about something that seems totally innocuous on its face but, when you look back on the arc of your life, you can actually say “This. Here. This spot. This day. This thing that I did. That’s when my life started. That’s when I embarked on the road that led me to the exact place I am today. Without that one thing, everything would have been different.”
Today is such a day for me.
Fifty years ago today I had a first date with someone. That someone turned out to be a man I spent some years with off and on, eventually even becoming engaged to him for a short period of time. We never married and eventually even lost touch with each other. Then through the magic of Facebook we reconnected earlier this year. He’s happy now, married, and thriving.
But that is not the point.
The point is if I had not started seeing him, other things would not have happened.
I would not have worked where I did and I would not have met and married my first husband.
And if that hadn’t happened, I would not have wound up in Pennsylvania working at a place where I finally met the love of my life.
My John.
My soul mate.
The man whose life completed mine.
I guess the fact that I am approaching 70 years old in a few months is making me feel introspective.
And 50 years is a long time no matter how you look at it.
I don’t regret that day at all. I was lucky to have known a very nice person who I still like today. I’m glad we have reconnected, even if it’s only on the Internet. It completes the circle, so to speak and I know John is ok with it too.
Truly, I am in awe how life works out.
If not but for...then this wouldn’t have...
Have you ever felt that way? Can you single something out like that?
I feel lucky to be able to see the pattern in my life.
I am grateful.