Saturday, January 3, 2015

A Rose, Some Regrets, and the Answer to Everything

The anniversary of Rick’s passing on December 29th was hard, but not as hard as I feared. What was hard was the virus that mowed me down on Christmas Eve. Ough. On the day of the anniversary I looked out in the yard and saw what appeared to be a rose on one of my rose bushes. I walked out to check it out, and sure enough, it was a rather puny and beat up yellow rose. This late bloomer was pure yellow, and yellow roses were Rick’s favorites. That little rose made me feel like Rick is still thinking of me, and he had sent that rose to me.
To you skeptics and pragmatists who are saying, “Oh for gosh sakes, the rose happened to bloom late and it happened to be yellow,” I say: you are no fun. Like billions of people before me, I ponder what happens and where we go after we die. Books have been written detailing the experiences of people who died and came back to life. Rick’s grandmother in Ohio once was dying and would have been happy to go, but she recovered. Afterward she said an angel came and told her, “Florence, it’s not your time, and you have to go back.” Which she did, albeit reluctantly. That is not that unusual a story. John Edward had a television show in which he talked to dead people. At the end of every show he said, love people while you still have them to love. That’s excellent advice. A lot of my grief has been wishing I could change the unchangeable. I wish I’d called in medical caregivers at home months before Rick died instead of thinking I could do everything myself. I wish I’d hugged Rick more, although we hugged a lot. Sometimes I close my eyes and remember the feel of hugging him, the contours and warmth of his body, the feel of his shirt collar against my cheek, the feel of his arms around me and my arms around him. I am grateful for those memories, and that I can conjure them up so vividly. I wish I’d tried harder to get him to stop smoking. I did nag him at first, but decided after a few years that he was never going to quit, and I was only lousing up our relationship by nagging him. “It’s the only vice I have left,” he said, “and I enjoy it.” I’m glad you enjoyed smoking, Rick. Too bad about it KILLING you. Life is moving on now and I’m moving with it. For the first time since I was young, I have choices about where I go and what I do. Unlike when I was young, I now live with the results of the choices I made over time: My adult children, my granddaughter, my house, and the family mythology created in a lifetime of telling and re-telling stories. Like this one, one of my favorite Rick stories: Rick was a straight arrow, drug-free American citizen until he joined the Navy and went to Vietnam. That’s where he learned to smoke marijuana. After he left the Navy he lived for a time in Marin, and there he was introduced to LSD. LSD, this is Rick. Rick, meet LSD. They hit it off. One night he decided to take LSD and then go to sleep to see what happened. What happened was that he woke up in the middle of the night on fire with inspiration. Suddenly he understood everything! Incredible! He had the answer to everything! He was so excited and happy. Quickly he wrote down what he had realized, and lay down to sleep content that the Answer would be waiting for him in the morning. When he awoke, he remembered the lightning strike of enlightenment that had come to him in his sleep, and he ran to the paper where he’d written down the wisdom of the ages. What he found written on the paper was one sentence: “There’s a funny smell in this room.” Yeah, always loved that story. By the time we met in 1972, LSD was not a part of our lives. It was a character in stories we told about our experiences in the 1960s, which already seemed long ago and far away. I don’t know what happens when we die. I can’t say. But between the yellow rose and all the pennies I’ve been finding lately, I feel like Rick is trying to get my attention. Maybe he has something to tell me. I hope it isn’t that there’s a funny smell in the room. That’s the dog, and he doesn’t need to speak from the other side for me to know that. I’ll try to be still and pay attention and see what develops. Stay tuned.

Felines and Hard Times

It has been a hard year for some of us, and some people find December to be a hard time of the year. But suddenly I find myself rebelling against gloom. I want to feel better. Sometimes even the depressed and sad get fed up and want to toss their heavy moods and laugh a little, or do something a little mad that feels good. Which is why I have a new cat. His name is Mellow. I’ve been singing, “They call him Mellow fellow…” all week. He is a debonair tuxedo cat, black with a white vest, white front paws and white socks on his rear legs. He is extremely affectionate. He likes to get in your face and have you massage his ears while he rumbles a low blissed out purr and drools. Oh my goodness, does this cat drool. He doesn’t care how much he drools or where he drools, so I am starting to carry towels around the house. Sometimes I forget the towel, but I can always change my shirt. If this is the only problem I have with the cat, I’m in good shape. When my granddaughter was a baby she joyfully pounded on my iBook keyboard one day and after that iTunes was gone. Mellow hasn’t done anything like that. Yet. My dog, Marley, has other issues with the cat. She wants more than anything to give his butt a good, deep, thorough sniffing. Mellow will tolerate that up to a point, but if Marley gets too carried away with this joyful behavior, Mellow will give her a swat on the snout. I figure he’s training her, and if we’re all going to live together, we all have to train each other to an extent. Marley also has a little trouble with Mellow’s affectionate nature. She’s a little jealous, and squeezes up next to me when Mellow sits in my lap. I don’t mind. I got the cat because I’m lonesome and I’m as much or more of a hog for the animals’ attention as they are for mine. The dog is getting more exercise than before because she often runs around the house looking for the cat. The cat walks through the house with all the haughtiness of a king strolling around his domain. He doesn’t run away from the dog. He stands and glares at her, and offers a hiss and another swat if he feels it is merited. This is the sort of cat that does well in a dog household. As you can see, having the cat has taken my mind off my troubles. He makes me laugh. So, living with a cat and a dog again. I’ve always believed that one of each was about right for me. They don’t leave me so much time to ponder and feel sorry for myself. Sometimes it is good to take a break from thinking about life, and simply live it. Dogs and cats have the gift of pulling you right into living life. Many people had a hard year in 2014. All of us are grief-stricken sometimes in life, and I hope that sharing my grief journey this year has perhaps made you feel a little less alone in your journey. Thanks for reading, anyway. I wish you all light in this dark season. May you feel the love of your family and friends through these days, and all days. May you feel the joy of the return of the light. May we all be thankful for the people we have loved and who have loved us. We didn’t have them long enough, no matter how long they were here, but at least they were here for a while and we can be grateful for them. In closing, a prayer from the Book of Common Prayer: “In the Evening “O Lord, support us all the day long, until the shadows lengthen, and the evening comes, and the busy world is hushed, and the fever of life is over, and our work is done. Then in thy mercy, grant us a safe lodging, and a holy rest, and peace at the last. Amen.” See you next year. Blessings, love, hugs, peace, & grace to all.

First Thanksgiving Alone

As my younger son and I were setting off for the family Thanksgiving dinner to which we had been invited, I received a text from a friend wishing me a good day. “I know it’s hard,” she said, and she does know – she lost her spouse about a year before Rick died. To be honest, I have been dreading the arrival of the holidays. I like the Christian spirituality of the coming of the light, and I have no problem with people who are non-Christian. It doesn’t bother me if people wish me happy holidays or anything else. I figure Christianity has enough of a PR problem without me being rude. I have had a problem for most of my adult life with the cultural and commercial demands and expectations of the holiday season. I’ve never felt like I could live up to the demands of a busy and expensive time of the year. I have other reasons for getting uptight around the holidays. You see, in my life some rather awful physical calamities have taken place at Christmas, starting with my father’s first serious heart attack on Christmas Eve, 1974. This was at a time when bypass surgery was beginning to be done, but not yet in our little town. My father was in the hospital for a couple of weeks and then came home, where he picked up the pieces of his retired life. He got a jade heart on a gold chain for my mother’s birthday in February. This was a gift of uncharacteristic tenderness for him. He had his last heart attack in his sleep at four in the morning on the 13th of March, after spending the day before pruning my aunt and uncle’s fruit trees. Move ahead twenty-two years. In 1997 Rick went into the hospital in renal failure on Christmas Eve, after refusing to go to a doctor for weeks. He was stubborn that way. I spent that Christmas wondering if I was going to become the widow Tuel. Kidney failure can take you out more quickly than cancer, I learned. It turned out that Rick had prostate cancer, which had blocked off his kidneys. The docs removed the blockage, and Rick’s kidneys recovered their function, and then a few weeks later the docs removed his prostate, and told him, “You are now cancer free. Have a nice life.” Three years later in 2000 my mother had her first heart attack on the 22nd of December. Some neighbors checked on her the next morning, found her in rough shape, and called 911. Then they found my number and called me, and I got on an airplane and flew down to California. I spent that Christmas going back and forth between my mother’s house and the intensive care unit at Dominican Hospital, where she was in a drug-induced coma. She recovered a bit but not much, and died on the following March 31st at my brother’s house in New Mexico. Some of you are now thinking that December may be hard, but it’s March I should watch out for. I hear you. I’ve thought that myself. Last year when Rick and I were having one of the extremely honest discussions we had in those last months, I recounted all the things that had happened at Christmas and said to him, “Please don’t die at Christmas!” He didn’t. He died on the 29th of December. And now here comes Christmas again. I appreciated my friend texting good wishes to me for Thanksgiving, but it caused me to pause and remember that Rick hated Thanksgiving. He said his mother would always do the full Midwest Thanksgiving dinner, which required days of hard work in preparation. Each day she became a little more crazy and frantic. By the time the turkey was on the table, she was heck to be around. Once Rick had told me that, I tried to simplify and de-stress the meal and day as much as I could, but even so, he tended to hide out all day until the meal was served. He’d come and eat, and then disappear again. So I can honestly say I didn’t miss him that much at Thanksgiving. It is now the season of Advent in the church, a time of contemplation and expectancy. I am waiting – expectantly - for the first anniversary of Rick’s passing. It will be the last of the first times of without Rick. I miss him so much. I think of him every day, and whenever I find a penny, or any coin, I feel like he is saying hello to me. Sometimes he sends a quarter. I figure he knows I am always pinched for money. He was always kind and generous that way, the hard working rascal.
Thanksgiving, 2011. Left to right, Drew, Allysan, JD, and Rick