Courtney’s birthday was yesterday, so that calls for celebration! I remember well the arrival of our firstborn, like our very own early Christmas present. So glad she came into our lives! Plus, she’s coming for a nice long stay over the holidays, which is more reason for celebration. Here are a couple of my favorite photos of David and Courtney, plus one of Courtney and me, where we are looking scary-good — Thanks, Clayton! You’re a genius!
In addition to Courtney, recent birthday girl, Brittany will be with us most, if not all the time Courtney’s here, plus Bailey and Felicity arrive the 27th. Chelsea and Brian will be in and out, I’m sure, but will certainly spend Christmas Eve and Christmas Day here. So I celebrate my beloved family. We plan to watch David’s favorite movie, Field of Dreams, on the 27th, armed with plenty of tissues, I promise you.
I’m also celebrating passing the DELF B2 French exam, the one I was obsessing about in the last post. Woohoo! My total score was higher than I expected (but lower than I’d hoped — let’s be honest). Always did love high scores! My individual scores in the four areas of competence were weirdly almost the opposite of what I expected, highest in oral expression, and lowest in written comprehension. Um . . . what? Strange. The director of Alliance Française Denver has agreed to meet with me to help me understand what I did right, and more importantly my mistakes. You can’t learn if you don’t know what you did wrong! Meanwhile, I’m celebrating earning the diplôme.
Also, I’ve taken the plunge and signed up for a more serious writing workshop, one I actually had to pay for and that presumably has higher expectations of me. So I’m celebrating my bravery!
The days are flying by, as they are wont to do, especially at Christmas. I love the lights, the music, and especially, of course, the reason for the season, sweet baby Jesus, come to conquer death and give us hope. Let’s not forget to celebrate that! I don’t know what the next year will bring, but I’ve nearly made it through this one, and with enough evidence of thriving that I think David would be proud. One day at a time.
Thanks so much for all the kind comments on the last post. I send these words out into the void, so it means a lot to me to hear when they resonate with you. You are my treasured dear ones, even those of you I haven’t met, so of course I am also celebrating you!
For her birthday gift, Brittany wanted me to join her for a Trans-Siberian Orchestra concert in Denver, which was quite an experience — very cool laser-light-show flashing about the place, plus lots of old-school headbanging by the lead guitarist and choreographed hair-tossing by the women backup singers, all equally Rapunzel-tressed, gently swaying, while whipping their heads back and forth in sharp synchronicity between the lead guitarist and the keyboard player like they were watching a tennis match. Too funny. Then to dinner at The Berkshire Restaurant, where bacon is the featured menu item. Just say yes.
Then, just in case the normal stresses of the season were not enough, I decided to sit for a French level certification exam, the DELF B2, on December 5th, which definitely does NOT qualify as jollity. I prepped several hours a day for eight weeks or so and suffered way more angst than a completely optional exam, having no bearing whatsoever on my future prospects in any arena, should have been allowed to cause me. Oh well. It may have provided much-needed focus for my attention and it did give my French a bit of a turbo boost. In fact, I’ve been spending so much time thinking in French, I just spelled “season” as saison, without even noticing until the red squiggly line protested that saison was not English. I don’t know yet if I passed, but I’m optimistic. On verra (We’ll see).
In a bit of excellent timing, the day before the exam, I learned that a poem I had written for my second Lighthouse Writers Workshop has been included in a new community anthology they’re publishing called All the Lives We Ever Lived. An advance copy was being held for me (in Denver, of course), so after the exam, to distract myself from rehashing all the errors I already realized I had committed on the exam (not to mention those that would occur to me later), I went over and picked up my copy. They will eventually be available in stores like Tattered Cover (April, I think). How cool is that? To see my work in print, even on such a small scale (a page and a half out of 200 or so). Still. Feeling rather jolly about it!
Then taking further advantage of being in Denver, I went to the Denver Art Museum to see the Dior exhibit. Gorgeous! Here’s a tiny peek . . .
Dior Exhibit — Denver Art Museum
Dior Exhibit — Denver Art Museum
Early steps in design — Dior Exhibit — Denver Art Museum
So I’m still pretty busy. I’ve continued my fused glass fun, so that qualifies as jolly, even though my results are never quite what I hope they’ll be. I’m still very much a beginner. Here’s the final version of the first one I made . . .
The busyness, at least the creativity, the push to learn more, the appreciation of beauty, fun with friends and family — all are good things. Even the busyness to a point. But when I slow down long enough to listen to the lyrics of a Christmas carol or watch a Christmas movie or even to stop and think, as David was so fond of doing, I’m finding the tears come pretty easily. This season has been harder than I expected, although I had been warned it likely would be. And of course, the news contributes its share of tragic natural disasters, seemingly inescapable hardships, and increasingly frequent senseless violence. Plus, we’re coming up on the one-year anniversary. By 4:00 p.m. December 27th last year, David’s struggle was over. Mine was beginning a new phase.
Sometimes jolly is hard to find. But maybe I don’t have to. Maybe hope is a better goal. I heard a wonderful sermon recently about hope in the midst of struggle, hope in spite of grief. Hope is not an emotion, she said.* Hope is a choice.. . . don’t let our circumstances define our hope. Usually, it’s easier for me to have hope in the ultimate future, however distant that may be, God eventually redeeming all things, making all things right. But hope here, now, and for however many years I have left on earth, that’s the challenge for me these days. I can’t really imagine my life ever again being as good as it was with David. And yet, here I am. So I’m praying for strength to choose hope for the days ahead, and I’m clinging to hope for our ultimate future. Wishing the same for you, dear ones!
Any words of hope you have to offer in the comments will be very welcome!
I will stand my ground where hope can be found. ∼Lauren Daigle
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!
It was right about this time every year that David and I would head back to Sunapee to enjoy the fall foliage . . .
. . . 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 . . . ↓
. . . 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.
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.
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 . . .
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!
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.