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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Japanese Garden, Portland, Oregon
Well-rooted in La Rochelle, France
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
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:
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.
I was originally planning to call this post “Going Solo” but then I realized that wouldn’t really be true. It turns out so far my life has not been that solo. Yes, I miss David like crazy and I’m alone much of the time, but I’m in regular contact with family and many friends.
I also have my various clubs–book club, piano, French–although I’m not quite ready to get back into the full swing of those yet. I’m scheduled to start a three-week “newly bereaved” group on Tuesday and some individual grief counseling on Wednesday. I get six free sessions of counseling if I want them. It’s all part of David’s hospice care. It wouldn’t surprise David at all, but does me a bit, that one of my most pressing desires is to know “how to do this,” as if there were a manual I should be following. David always teased me about wanting a gold star all the time, and it’s true I was a very good student and got used to following instructions and being rewarded for it. Since I don’t have the energy right now to fight my basic nature, I went to the library, checked out a stack of books, ordered a few others online, and have been reading like mad. And it has actually helped. Apparently everything I’m feeling and doing, like sometimes speaking to him as if he were still in the room, is well within the range of standard grieving. I know I don’t need permission for how I handle this, but it’s nice to have it anyway. Courtney sent me this quote the other day:
We must do what we need to do. Those who disapprove will either come around or stop coming around. Either way, lovely.∼Glennon Doyle Melton
I hate to dispel the image that I’m super strong and always cheerful and grateful, as my daughters seem to believe me to be. The fact is, sometimes I am. But sometimes I’m not. When I opened WordPress to write this post I found the beginning of a post I had written on the 6th of January, but never completed. Since the 7th was the hardest day I’ve had so far, I understand how this one slipped away from me. But I find it interesting to read what I was processing at that time. I have to say, nearly a month later, it’s still true:
It turns out grief requires staying in the present moment as much or more than living with and taking care of a loved one with a terminal diagnosis. I have to keep saying to myself, “Are you okay right this minute? Yes? Okay, then.” If I start thinking about anything but right now, I’m instantly a hot mess. Even sorting through a pack of coupons for local businesses has landmines — a simple offer for a favorite place we used to go provides a surprisingly sharp stab. But right this second, I’m okay.
Since the 3rd of January was my first evening completely alone, it was certainly a very fresh pain at that time. Which brings me back to NOT “going solo.” The celebration of David’s life and the reception directly afterward here at our home could not have gone as well as they both did without so many dear ones giving so generously of their time, talents, and even freezer space.
Once again, I find myself so grateful for so many. The flowers alone were absolutely stunning and a few are still hanging on and bringing me joy more than two weeks later.
I even love that this one ornamental branch (bottom left photo) has actually sprouted new leaves. How’s that for a metaphor? I will be okay, and it is in part thanks to you dear ones.
One example: At the last minute on the day of the celebration of David’s life, I realized I had no flowers at the house, something I rarely let happen in any case–I love fresh flowers–but it was definitely NOT what I had intended when I was about to host 250-300 people. All the beautiful bouquets that had arrived shortly after David died had finally needed to be tossed. But all the new ones arriving were at the church. Courtney mentioned to a cousin that I was a little stressed out, since I now had that on my list to accomplish along with everything else on the 19th, and this cousin instantly said, “I’m on it.” Within an hour, three absolutely stunning arrangements arrived and could not have been more perfect. Thank you, Maren! Of course, I didn’t manage to photograph them in their initial perfection, so you’ll have to take my word for it, but parts of all the bouquets are STILL beautiful and I am so very grateful.
Then the bouquet above became a lovely arrangement of greenery. And even after the greenery has to be tossed, I’ll remember the kindness of those who sent these.
If you’ve been following my updates on CaringBridge, you already know that David’s ordeal is over. The last bit was hard, so I have to be glad for his sake that that part was not prolonged, but being without him seems to stab me at odd moments, and I can’t quite seem to catch my breath.
Time yet again to remember all I have to be grateful for.
We had a lovely Christmas with our daughters, granddaughters and future son-in-law, even though by then, David was not strong enough to leave the bedroom. We all visited him regularly throughout the day and he gave us a few smiles, more precious than any other gift.
The 26th was busy with rearranging the bedroom to make room for a hospital bed. It turned out David only used it for one night, but it was helpful and we were glad to have the loan of it. David and I shared a few perfect moments in the evening, which I already related on CaringBridge, but here it is, in case you didn’t see the CaringBridge post:
During this entire sixteen months, whenever I didn’t know what to say, I’d say, “I love you” or “I love you to the moon and back” or “I love you to infinity and beyond” or “I will love you forever.” Even when his voice was a mere whisper, he would say back, “Love you.” Until the 26th. He was finally comfortably installed in the hospital bed and it was just the two of us quietly together. Even though he was clearly listening and I felt he was very much with me, he was not replying. When I got a bit teary and mentioned that he wasn’t saying “love you” anymore, he immediately tipped his head up, opened hiseyes wide, looking directly into my eyes, and said, strong and clear, “I love you very much, for all time.” It was the last complete thing he said.
On the 27th, I sat next to David and updated CaringBridge, talked with the hospice nurse when she visited, did various caretaker tasks, updated David’s brother Doug when he arrived in the early afternoon from Portland, Oregon, and generally just watched over David as he slept. I thought we were settling into a new pattern, even if just for a few more days, but just before 4 p.m., David took a few irregular breathes and suddenly was gone.
I’m not sure how to describe the next few hours, except to say they were tender and piercing, touching and wrenching, all at the same time. I had precious time alone with him, but mostly we were all there with him, saying our goodbyes in a peaceful, I’d even say holy space that is so rare in this life.
I don’t really remember the next day, except that it was quiet (no more wheezing, thumping oxygen concentrator) and everyone was very gentle with me. I had a few necessary tasks, but the others managed everything else, taking care of the young ones, providing food for all. Best of all, in the evening, they did something David would have LOVED . . . ↓
. . . laser tag with glow bracelets and necklaces, out among the trees on the dark golf course. I wasn’t quite up for it, so declined, but every one of us could absolutely picture David, all in, dodging from tree to tree, giggling like a maniac. The next day people started heading home, so that was our last night together during this bittersweet Christmas holiday. It was strangely perfect.
*A Celebration of David’s Life will be held on the 19th at 4 p.m. at Council Tree Covenant Church in Fort Collins, with a reception to follow at our house. More details and a chance to let me know you’re coming here.