Things are Different

David and Chelsea – 1988

We’re all trying to adjust to life’s milestones continuing on without David. It’s Chelsea’s birthday tomorrow, so I thought I’d include this adorable photo of Chelsea and David from MANY years ago. →

And here’s one more that I love from a little more recently, back when she was in school at GW. ↓

Happy Birthday, Chelsea!

Chelsea and David 2011

It was right about this time every year that David and I would head back to Sunapee to enjoy the fall foliage . . .

Lake Sunapee, New Hampshire 2013

. . . and help close up the lake house for the winter. I could have gone this year, of course, and almost did, but after all my travels this summer, it felt a bit overwhelming. So I’m enjoying a Colorado fall this year and working on my writing, as well as trying a few arty things. More about that another time.

Sometimes thinking of the future without David is as disorienting as looking down over the edge of the Quechee Gorge . . . ↓

Over the Rail at Quechee Gorge, Vermont

. . . but I’m doing better overall, apart from the occasional stab. Those aren’t likely to disappear anytime soon, I’m told, but I promise you, the privilege of having him in my life was worth the pain of now.  Here’s another piece I wanted to share with you from my writers workshop:

A New Kind of Different

              Things are different now, and they’re a new kind of different than they were during the months that followed David’s cancer diagnosis. In some ways those sixteen months were not only different, but weirdly better: more tender, more intentional, more together. For a while we couldn’t stand to be in separate rooms, but then we were lulled by the efficacy of the first rounds of treatment, and we began to believe we’d have more time.

With the illusion of more time, we were afraid we couldn’t sustain that level of intimacy. We decided we needed to continue our lives as before, certainly with time together but also time for our individual interests. David wanted that for me to prepare me for life without him. I wanted that for him, because I would have granted any of his wishes if I’d had the power, and I did have the power to release him from constant attendance on my emotional state, to free him to watch a little golf or college football on TV if that appealed to him. Sometimes I couldn’t stay away, though, and I found myself heading down to be with him, no matter how limited my interest in televised sports. My interest in David was unlimited in those days.

One evening he had gone downstairs to watch TV, leaving me upstairs scanning through photos of our travels on my laptop, only to return hours later to find me distraught at finding fewer photos of him than I had expected. He was always in the way, I’d thought. He was usually out ahead of me as we walked, since I stopped so often to take pictures, but then he’d be right in the middle of what I wanted to photograph, so I’d make him move out of the shot. But once time got short, I’d have traded every single beautiful postcard shot of France for more of him. I’m better now, since at the end I dragged boxes of photos out from storage and scanned a hundred or so shots from our nearly forty years together, and a few more of the rest of his sixty-five years. So I’ve now got a slideshow and some videos our girls took, but of course, I don’t have him, my favorite companion in all things.

We used to go out for dinner or drinks and tapas all the time, nice places always, and regular Saturday morning breakfast walks. After he started chemo and the doctor advised him to try to keep his weight up, we were at the mercy of whatever highly-caloric thing he thought he could eat: Big Macs, pizzas, several versions of chicken pot pie for a few days, one regrettable Dunkin Donuts episode, where neither of us felt good for hours afterwards. He could never finish any of it. I, on the other hand, gained twenty pounds. Now I rarely go out, except with my Denver daughter on the occasional evenings I’m in town. On the plus side, the twenty extra pounds melted away, although now they’re creeping back a bit. There’s no one to make comments about how quickly the ice cream is disappearing. And I’m still way too sedentary.

We had all these plans to get more active. We were regular walkers, but we wanted to diversify, so we bought bikes that we rode exactly four times before his diagnosis, and now I’m finding it hard to get going again. Everything was in slow motion for so long: walking from the car into the Cancer Center and back out to the car again, even driving. It hurt him if he was jostled too much, and he’d say, “Easy there, Mario,” if I took a corner too fast. Then grief put a sort of fog over everything that still has the power to keep me in the slow lane, definitely not when I’m driving anymore, but in other everyday activities, like getting up, or going to bed, or trying to drag myself out for a walk.

I know I probably have years more of my life to live, not that any of us knows that for certain, but dreaming of the future has changed drastically. David had a way of asking provocative questions, like, “What would you change in your life if you could change anything?” or “If money were no object where in the world would you go and what would you do?” And I always knew to dream big, partly because it was more fun that way, but also because there was a very real possibility he’d figure out a way to make those dreams come true, so why not aim high?

But I’m not dreaming as much these days; I’ve lost confidence in the unlimited possibilities of the future. I am exploring the present, though. I’m trying new things to see if they resonate. I’m offering, when I can, encouragement to others who are also hurting. And I’m learning for the first time how to be alone without being lonely. But I’m also signing up and showing up, for whatever strikes me. Maybe that will turn out to be the first step in making new dreams come true.

*****

Wishing you peace, joy and love in the present and hope for the future. Bless you, dear ones.

Sunapee Summer

I spent a lot of time at Sunapee this summer. . .

Lake Sunapee, New Hampshire

. . . not as much as David and I did in 2014 during our grand adventure, but several weeks beyond the usual. (Thanks, Helen, for your gracious hospitality!)

It was the summer of weddings, so there were lots of opportunities to spend time with family, both at weddings and at the lake . . .

Felicity, Courtney, Bailey
Brian, Brittany, Chelsea on what they dubbed the “Chill Station 3000”

. . . but also some good quiet alone time to process this first summer at Sunapee without David. Not easy. Here are two of my favorite David pictures from the stairway wall . . .

I’m back in a new writing workshop at Lighthouse Writers in Denver, and here’s something I wrote for it that seems appropriate to include here:

*****

Tube for One?

There’s no one on the dock when I go down there, and the bay is quiet, but the paddle board is gone, so I walk carefully through the boathouse, watching for dock spiders and rotting boards, out the other door and around back to where the old inner tubes are stacked. I slide one out from under the collection of random inflatables, gingerly wipe off the webs, and roll it back through and out onto the broad side of the dock, shucking my flip-flops at the top of the steps leading into the water. The lake is cold and clear as vodka. Making sure the long inflation stem is facing down, I ease myself into the tube, bracing for the shock of cold, and push off and away from the shallows, only then realizing how enormous it is, really better for two people than one. It must have been an inner tube just like this that David and I used forty years ago when we’d float together out into the bay, newly engaged, planning our future. And suddenly, I have to decide. Can I do this? Or do I get out? Go back up to the house. It was only that first summer that we floated together in a shared inner tube. Decades of summers followed where I’d laze in a tube on the rippling, undulating water, watching the clouds drifting overhead, the water-bugs skittering across the surface, the dragonflies tickling my knees, while David hauled brush from the woods or stacked firewood or tamed Virginia Creeper, both of us doing what we loved most. So why is the memory of that first summer so sharp?

I’d already been clothes-lined a few days before by the hot, musty, woodsy scent of the family room and the sight of Ebenezer, the retired carousel horse, his proud head thrown back, on his rockers in the corner, awaiting the next generation of children. David had told me about him before I ever saw Sunapee. And that smell. The balsa pine of the long drive, the unfinished wood of the interior walls and that unforgettable scent of an ancient lake house slowly rotting in unsuspected corners. Soon there were other Sunapee scents for me, like fresh-cut lime for my gin and tonic, but that one doesn’t have the power to wound. I’ve long-since adopted it for other places and other times. But the family room, closed as it usually is, holds the purest essence of Sunapee and it rocked me. I delivered what I’d come up to put away, turned and reached a hand out to caress the snout of Ebenezer, although I didn’t get on him this time. He’s big enough for an adult, and I’ve been on him before, for a laugh, but it wasn’t laughter I was feeling. I turned and went back down the stairs to the kitchen, suddenly disoriented by the hubbub of the family at cocktail hour. My brother-in-law sensed something and ask if I was okay, and the tears came. He put an arm around me and my mother-in-law, watching from the next room, blew me a kiss. I am loved here, and I belong, even without David, but this is the first summer without him, and oh, how he is missed.

There is no safe-haven from grief I’m discovering. No place where it cannot touch you. In this year of firsts, I’m just trying to get through them all, experimenting with doing things the same as always, or maybe with a slight twist, something a little new, like music on the radio on the drive to the lake-house from the airport. It worked for a while, but the stations kept fading away. The woods are too dense. Which is probably why we never bothered with the radio before.  Maybe the way we’ve always done things is the best way, but surely there are new possibilities. Which hurts less, I wonder? Which helps most? The old way or something new? The only answer I’ve found so far is there is no one right answer.

*****

It’s been nine months today, since he’s been gone, and he is still so deeply missed.

Wishing you grace and peace like this moon-rise in the midst of whatever challenge you may be facing. I know I’m not the only one.

Moon over Lake Sunapee

God be with you.

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.

Adventures in Wanderlust