Les Amis

There’s a weird grief inertia thing that makes everything take four times a long as it should, so I’m finally getting around to finishing the post about the visit of our dear friends Pascale and Jacky from La Rochelle . . .

David, Pascale and Jacky, June 2013 on Ile de Ré

They came to stay with me, along with Pascale’s daughter Anna, and were here from May 31st until the 12th of June. Here it is more than two months later, so high time to publish this post about all our adventures!

Although  Anna is completely fluent in English, neither Pascale nor Jacky is, so lucky for me we spent the entire time speaking French. Or rather they spent the entire time speaking French and I spent it trying to keep up (and having my mistakes corrected — which I had requested, to be clear, but a bit discouraging at times to find I’m still so very far from fluent). Still, I have come a long way!

I had planned to cram as much as possible into the time and it’s true we did a lot. They arrived a bit late on Thursday night the 31st, so Friday we took it easy, strolling around Old Town Fort Collins and lunching on the Rio patio, because . . . margaritas! I love France, as many of  you know, but the one thing you cannot find in France, or at least not often or easily, is Mexican food. Avocados, yes. Margaritas, sort of, sometimes. Mexican food, not so much. I love the story Courtney tells of her trip to France in 2014, when she was so discombobulated with jet lag she ordered a margarita . . .  at an Irish pub . . . in Paris. We were laughing so hard I never got around to asking how it was. But here? We’ve got margaritas nailed. And nail them we did, so then had a stroll up Mountain Avenue to walk off the tequila and introduce them to other dear friends, Tom and Christy, then home to enjoy a low-key evening.

Anna, Hewlett Gulch

Saturday we headed up Poudre Canyon. By the way, pronouncing it Pooder Canyon, as we do around here, is a bit startling to actual French people, but they coped. We made it up to Arrowhead Lodge and the Poudre Canyon Chapel, then came back down a couple of miles for burgers at Archers Grille, a favorite of David’s and mine. Then back down the canyon, stopping at Hewlett Gulch for a bit of a stroll.

Pascale and Jacky enjoying Colorado nature

The day was absolutely glorious . . . ↓

Hewlett Gulch

We had been on the go from early morning,  but they rallied later for drinks, tapas and jazz with Mark Sloniker in the Sunset Lounge at the top of the Elizabeth Hotel.

On Sunday we headed to Denver — the Denver Art Museum, a walk around all the usual highlights of downtown (with a bazillion other people), then a stroll through the historic district near the botanic gardens, then . . . something I did not even know existed. Anna had read something about this place online . . .↓

International Church of Cannibus, Denver

. . . and wanted to see it. Not really my thing, but it certainly was colorful. A little creepy the way the lights hang out of the eyeballs of the animals on the ceiling, but maybe that’s just me.  😉

All three of them came ready to see or do anything I suggested, and they were up for any adventure. Certainly Anna had done her research and had things she wanted to see, but they were easy and friendly and grateful for whatever I offered in the way of entertainment. Despite my ambitious to-do list, we also had to be sure to fit in time with Wendi, my former student and now friend, as well as their former exchange student. Wendi is the reason David and I met them in the first place — Thanks Wendi!

In the time they were here, they managed to fit in, not only the above, but a BBQ at Wendi’s house, and then a three-day side trip to Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon. Then back here for the summit of Trail Ridge Road, plus Estes Park, then dancing at the Sundance Saloon . . . ↓

At the Sundance Saloon with Wendi and her parents, Julie and Tom Russell

. . . then a dinner at Tom and Lexi’s (whom they’d met last year in La Rochelle). Then a few very hot hours in Boulder . . .

Pascale trying to cool off in the Dushanbe Tea House, Boulder

. . . then another BBQ with Wendi’s family before flying home on the 12th. Whew. Fortunately, they were indefatigable.

But the most important thing for me was that they had traveled all the way from France to see not only the sights of Colorado and beyond, but specifically to spend time with me and with Wendi and her family. Of course, we had all hoped David would still be here and well enough to be able to host as he loved to do, but it was not to be. His spirit of joy was with us, though, and so many memories of times together with all our treasured amis. I hope for many more!

 

My Beloved

I’m in the middle of writing a post about the visit of our dear friends from France, Pascale, Jacky, and Pascale’s daughter Anna, but while I was stalling a bit to see if Pascale would send me any photos I should be sure to include, life got in the way. I promise to finish it soon, but couldn’t let today pass without a quick note of gratitude that 66 years ago today, my beloved David was born. Two years ago, I posted this, neither of us knowing his cancer would be discovered within a month. And now he’s been gone seven months. Yes, he has “slipped the surly bonds of earth” * but he is certainly not forgotten.  (*John Gillespie Magee Jr.)

I’m at Sunapee today, where David celebrated so many birthdays . . .

David at Sunapee in 1974 (Helen and I think), so 22 years old

Always loved those dimples — but even more the man, of course! Excellent work, there, God!

I still miss David so much, but try to focus more on the very great blessing it was to share nearly forty years of my life with him. His spirit is very much alive with me and with all who love him, and for that I am also profoundly grateful.

Here’s hoping you lift a word or thought of thanks today for our beloved David and the joy he brought to all of our lives!

 

Smiles and Tears

David on our honeymoon – November 1978

It has been a crazy busy few weeks, and I’m just barely catching my breath. Chelsea and Brian were married on the 26th of May, which also happened to be the 40th anniversary of the day David and I met. Here’s a shot of David on our honeymoon six months later. It took five or six tries to get this shot, with David riding back and forth on the borrowed bike and me snapping away at just exactly the WRONG moment. And of course this was back in the days of film!

The wedding was very beautiful — Chelsea’s and Brian’s, that is; David’s and my wedding was super lame, but the marriage was EXCELLENT, so that’s what matters!

Chelsea and Brian’s wedding party

Yes, I realize it looks like everyone they know was in the wedding party, but there were actually a few guests as well! They know a LOT of people. It was touching to see so many of the extended family who had traveled so far yet again, since many had also been here for the celebration of David’s life in January.

Uncle Doug and Chelsea — photo by Christy French

David’s brother Doug stood in for David in walking Chelsea down the aisle. I didn’t realize how perfectly it would coordinate with the lupines when I cast my vote for the purple tie, but there you go!

All evening, the light just kept getting more and more beautiful, and David was very much with us in spirit.

Arrowhead Golf Club, Littleton, Colorado

There were certainly tears shed, especially during the reception whenever a Van Morrison song was played, but there were also plenty of smiles and a lot of love, and a great deal of very welcome gentleness shown to those of us still missing David so much.

A few days after the wedding, Pascale, Jacky, and Pascale’s daughter Anna arrived from France, but I think I’d better save that for the next post.

Welcome to the family, Brian!

Brittany, Sunny, Brian, Chelsea and Courtney at the Rehearsal Dinner

What a very great thing it is to be surrounded by so many friends and family. Whether you were here in person or here in spirit, your love and well-wishes were felt.  You are my treasured dear ones. Bless you.

Walkabout

Although the weather has been a bit rainy and cool the past few days, overall lately it has been absolutely glorious, and that helps both with my general mood and with my desire to get out and walk. Being more active is surely also improving my overall mental health.

Sunset on a pond in Collindale Golf Course

I don’t generally carry my digital SLR camera on walks, but I’ve snapped a few shots from my phone, so let’s see how that goes. All the photos in this post were taken with my phone, (except the last one, taken a year ago in France).

The trees and shrubs have been in flower all over Fort Collins, and some are even beginning to lose their blooms as the leaves push them aside, promising summer just around the corner. Fortunately, I have friends who also appreciate glorious days and getting outside to soak in the beauty, so I have plenty of opportunities for company in my ramblings.

Glorious day at City Park Golf Course

My friend Christy walks with me in City Park and Grandview Cemetery, the same walk David and I did so many times together. Bonus, now that Tom and Christy live right across from the park, Christy and I can end each walk with a glass of wine at their house. Cheers!

And my friends Rik and Nikki live in a place that is practically their own private park:

Yeah. All these, plus HUNDREDS more, are in their YARD. The previous owner is a horticulturist of some renown, so there is not one blade of traditional grass and almost everything is an unusual variety of the types of plants you usually see. There are paths everywhere and various lovely places to sit and sip something refreshing while enjoying the view. It’s like the best kind of field trip, plus friends.

Heron at City Park Lake

With all the benefit I seem to be getting from these walks, it occurred to me the other day that it’s a bit like I’m on a sort of walkabout (with handy breaks for a comfortable bed each night and indoor plumbing as needed, thankfully). Of course, the traditional walkabout was a process of transition from one stage of life to another and certainly involved spending a great deal of time in nature, and that is sort of what I’m doing. Fortunately, mostly I get to do my walking about with friends.

I’ve learned grief is not linear, so I may have a stretch of good days, then an abrupt crash into wrenching sorrow, but the duration and frequency of the tough times have not been too bad lately.

David in La Rochelle, May 2017

Still, I can’t bear to not include David, so here’s a favorite picture of David walking about La Rochelle last May. He is not forgotten, of course. I know he would be (or even in some mysterious way, is) happy that I’m not quite so fragile these days. I’m making plans and doing new things, just as David and I had talked about so many times after his diagnosis, trying to envision how I would  continue to live and grow without my best friend. I heard an intriguing idea in a bereavement group I’ve been attending lately: To develop some positive quality or gift or talent originally brought out and encouraged by your beloved is a way of giving back to them, even now.

And bonus, you may manage to benefit someone else as well in the process!

Hide not your talents. They for use were made. What’s a sundial in the shade?  * Benjamin Franklin

We can’t take any credit for our talents. It’s how we use them that counts. * Madeleine l’Engle

Wishing you opportunities . . . for growth, for appreciating the beauty of nature, and most of all for deepening friendships.

A Place to Call Home

Three years ago today we bought this house, so I’m feeling a bit nostalgic for those early dreaming, optimistic days, as Spring warms and blooms around me.

Here’s something I wrote a few weeks ago for my writers workshop. It seems appropriate today.

*******

A Place to Call Home

Spring was pretty well established by the time we rolled back into town that April. The jonquils were blooming and nodding in the breeze, and the cottonwoods were misted with the pale green of new leaves. But move-in day winter came back with a bitter, damp bite. It snowed so much, one of the movers slipped on the truck’s loading ramp and fell, hitting his head with a sickening thump. Should I have seen this as an omen? Maybe, but I didn’t.

When we first toured this house, I had no idea it was a peek into our future. We were perfectly content living elsewhere and had only walked down to see it to sate our curiosity. At first glance it seemed a bit dark and overdone. I politely admired all the Old-World touches, but I was privately thinking how much I would prefer more light—lighter stain on the knotty alder cabinets and woodwork, less ornate light fixtures, anything other than the dark slate tile. But this house was available when we needed one, and after living in France, suddenly Old World felt like home, so here we are.

Or rather, here I am. David’s been gone since Christmas.

Toward the end of our year of adventure—six months in France and then a slow stroll down the eastern seaboard waiting out the Colorado winter—we bought, not quite sight unseen, but almost, this place I now call home. We had so many plans. Soft summer evenings with wine flowing, while steaks sizzled on the grill, the mouth-watering aroma drawing neighbors down to say hello and maybe score an impromptu invitation. Lingering candlelit dinners where we would talk deep into the night. And laughter. Always laughter. 

That first morning we directed the moving team here and there, placing objects we hadn’t seen in over a year. The day took on a festive air, as we rediscovered our belongings from out of long-term storage, cavalierly giving away items that didn’t seem to fit in our new space. As one scowling young man lugged box after box of books down to our new library, others scrambled to be on hand for the next offering. They wanted what we didn’t. It was perfect. Turns out we were right to give it all away. The only thing I miss, the only one I miss, is David.

But we had that summer, and most of the next, and in between, a refulgent fall filled with the pungent tang of wood fires, and the shush and crackle of fallen leaves. And then a gleaming Christmas lit by twinkle lights and cranberry scented candles. As winter gave way to spring and spring to summer, we sipped our wine and made our plans and talked about how happy we were in our new home, and all the while the cancer was settling into its new home, stretching out, getting comfortable, in David.   

*******

That day we had no idea the road ahead of us, but there was sun as well as sorrow, and an overflowing of love, tenderness and gratitude. This workshop for cancer patients and their caregivers has been rich, helping all of us to pour our pain, our fears, our grief into words on a page, and in so doing, let a bit of it out of our hearts and minds, lift some weight off our shoulders.

Mostly, when I think of the past, I’m trying to focus on the time we had together, David and I, and the joy we shared, rather than the pain of separation, and sometimes I’m even successful, for slightly longer stretches at a time these days. Spring helps, certainly, and it is wonderful to be here where I am known and neighbors watch out for me.

Best of all, I know I am still remembered in some of your thoughts and prayers. I feel the profound comfort of the spirit of God, and even the surprising but very welcome comfort of David himself, because in many inexplicable ways, David is still very much here. 

David, May 2016, refusing to hold still for a photo!

My beloved.

The Giving Tree

Looking up at the beauty of fall at Lake Sunapee

Things are not exactly looking up yet, but I’m doing . . . okay. Sometimes terrible, but often okay. I’ve benefited from some good advice from a number of quarters, including one acquaintance who has become a friend in recent days. Christine writes a beautiful blog called My Literary Playground relating how various things she’s reading impact her as she processes her own grief. Definitely check it out here.

I too have been doing a lot of writing lately, mostly journaling and writing letters to David, which may sound weird, but you’d be stunned at how many bereaved recommend it, and it actually really helps. It was a suggestion both in my grief support groups and in the wonderful book On Grief and Grieving by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and David Kessler.

Then I jumped at the chance to enroll in a writers workshop offered in Denver free of charge for cancer patients and their caregivers by Lighthouse Writers in conjunction with UC Health. I’ve only had one session so far, but loved it, so we’ll see how that goes. While awaiting the beginning of the workshop,  I started reading Your Life as Story by Tristine Rainer, in which the author mentions a sort of parlor game. One of her friends said he’d heard that your favorite fairy tale or children’s story turns out to be the key to who you are. An oversimplification, of course, but I was intrigued by the concept.

Giving Trees on Ile de Ré

I have a lot of favorites, but it would be hard to beat The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein, about a tree that keeps finding new ways to give more and more throughout its  entire lifespan and the boy, later man, who benefits from the giving. If you’re not familiar with it, you’re long overdue. It was originally published in 1964 and remains a classic of children’s literature.

 

When I think about the story, though, and how it might relate to my life, I think it would be much more accurate to say David was the giver and I was the demanding little boy a LOT of the time. If not exactly demanding, I certainly knew expressing a wish in David’s hearing was a pretty sure way of having it granted. Ironic and beautiful, really, that his final gift to me was allowing me to give to him.

For it is in giving that we receive. ∼ Francis of Assisi

 

Collage

Brittany and I finally got our act together and asked Matt, the worship pastor at our church and all-around tech guy, for help getting the slide-show, plus the goofy videos of David put on YouTube. He’s calling it “David Collage.” Brittany and I were thinking that some people might appreciate a bit more context for the video clips, so see below for that, but if you don’t care or can’t wait, here’s the link: Click here. 

Be sure to keep watching when the slide show is finished — there’s a black and white slide that lasts about 20 seconds before the videos start. (It was a nice way to end the slide show during the celebration of life, where we didn’t show the videos.) The slide show plus the videos were playing all evening at the reception, so you may have already seen this. The whole thing is 13:41, and the videos start right about 8:11.

I love the slide show, especially with the music (“Save a Place for Me” Matthew West and “Leave This World Behind” Third Day). It really is a collage of David’s life, although we couldn’t put in every photo we would have liked to include. Here are a couple of photos I received too late:

David with Tom and Christy French at Sunapee

Really, there are so many more photos, but thought I definitely should share these two of Tom and Christy French with David, since they are a couple of our dearest friends, but I didn’t find any photos of them with David for the slide show until Lexi sent me these a few days after the final version was done. Oh well.  I promise we love you, Tom and Christy!

Brittany and Chelsea were especially good at trying to catch David on video once his cancer was diagnosed in August of 2016, and we happened to have a couple of earlier ones from other family get-togethers. Here are the videos you’ll see:

The Wheelchair Race — May 2013 — This was an interactive station in a children’s museum, I think in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Notice how the adults are TOTALLY into it. I especially love David’s delight and Felicity’s cheerleading.

Dark, Dark Place — Thanksgiving 2016 — Courtney had teasingly drunk the last of Chelsea’s favorite wine, admittedly out of Chelsea’s glass, which may have crossed a line. Oops.* Chelsea . . . was . . . well, not amused. Since Courtney’s humor had backfired, she was feeling down, so David was trying to cheer her up when Chelsea came over to join the conversation. Once David started his melodramatic retelling, it had to be caught on video.

*Postscript: This bit of strife did eventually lead to the most amusing and memorable Christmas gift of 2016: One dozen bottles of Chelsea’s favorite dry Riesling, all individually wrapped in various sizes of boxes and bags, so they looked like they contained anything BUT wine. They were all gifts to Chelsea, but every single bottle had a large sticker on it saying “Courtney’s Wine.”

Jimi Hendrix Tribute —  A few days before Christmas 2016 — This was a gift Chelsea and Brian bought for his toddler niece and we were all laughing about how much the parents were going to HATE it. Definitely love David’s guitar face and head banging. And of course the laugh.

Pressing Your Luck — Christmas 2016 — Brittany was sneaking this video, so had to slowly ease the phone into better position without David noticing. Brittany’s dog Bega is not actually allowed to jump or climb up on people on the couch, but somehow manages to broaden the scope of permitted behaviors every time she stays here, hence the “pressing your luck” question.

2013 New Year’s Eve Ball Drop — In this video we’re helping Courtney move into her condo, where as you can see, she has no furniture yet. But it’s New Year’s Eve, so we’re trying to make the best of it. There was no TV, so someone had the bright idea to have our own ball drop, hoping for a dramatic shatter at the bottom. This is what happens when the ball is tiny and plastic. Brittany is trying to videotape while keeping time, then chasing the ball, then helping hold the ball. Maybe you had to be there, but this one still makes us laugh.

I Love You . . . . .  — Thanksgiving 2017 — David is noticeably weaker here, but still making us all laugh. Chelsea had wanted a video of him telling her he loved her, but he said it before she started recording the video and she asked him to repeat it, so he’s teasing her a bit by naming EVERYONE in the room, except her.

And how well he did love us all. 

And how much we love him still.

One of the definitions of collage is an assemblage of diverse elements in unlikely or unexpected juxtaposition. Doesn’t that sound a lot like life? What a privilege to share so much of mine with this dear man.

Adventures in Wanderlust