Life goes on

Grief was my constant companion for much of the last ten years.

During that time I lost both of my parents, and my spouse several times over to memory loss.

Caregivers of those afflicted with Alzheimer’s and dementia first lose their loved one as their cognitive skills disappear in several unique stages.

And then they ultimately witness that final loss, with the death of their loved one.

I was no different.

By the time my husband finally passed, there were no tears left to shed.

Yet earlier this week I caught myself crying some after the election.

My tears weren’t particularly tied to the results, but more towards the hatred and lack of civility bubbling over everywhere.

Still those tears weren’t long lived as I know there is much work to do in this country.

I decided I better start with me.

I knew I had to find some peace to feel grounded if I am to be productive in the days ahead.

Making sense of this election and defining next steps will come to me in time, but only after the rhetoric has faded.

So Saturday I chose to find comfort and community while standing in line for shrimp chowder at the local butcher shop, and a generous slice of pumpkin cake at the bakery afterwards.

The warm welcomes and sweet scents soon had everyone inside smiling again.

No phones appeared or politics were spoken in either place.

And this morning it was all about blue grass and lemon grass Thai treats at our Sunday’s Farmers Market.

Humming as I left to stop by a neighborhood church service, I found myself parking further away than needed.

But I knew it would give me a chance later to walk over the bridge of a brook sparkling in the sunshine, and check in on the garden just beyond.

After the service, upon entering I discovered fragrant and strong yellow roses were still blooming in the breeze.

And cheerful white daisies, too.

I sang softly, “…life goes on in endless song” from the closing hymn I’d just heard.

Yes, I believe it really does.

Even in November of one particularly nasty election year.

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Simple Needs, Simple Gifts

While grabbing the mail a few weeks back, I noticed one oversized envelope with a stamped New York return address.

“5th Avenue” it read. It was sent from a suite in in the Empire State Building.

Yet my Minnesota address was handwritten.

I smiled for a minute, thinking of the many trips I made to the city when I was young.

I thought fondly of one employer who’d put me up in a particularly posh room at the UN Plaza, overlooking the Chrysler Building.

I remember sitting cross legged on my oversized bed at 3:00 a.m. gazing up at that skyscraper shining brighter than the stars overhead.

I was so overwhelmed with the beauty of it all.

But I never quite made it to the Empire State Building.

Was this some kind of a fancy invitation now, I wondered?

Well, sort of.

Inside the envelope was an offer to select a gift to thank me for my many years of service from a more recent employer. They provided me a with a password to use on an internet site.

I retired back in the fall.

The selections they presented me with were dazzling though I couldn’t find any new car batteries or gift cards for dog food included.

Instead I saw regal looking clocks with chimes, delicate diamond bracelets, circular saws, and 24 piece flatware sets.

Nice merchandise indeed, but I couldn’t help but reflect on the fact that more than 90 percent of possessions I owned when I retired are no longer around.

In order to downsize to an 800 square foot cottage that same month, I needed to pare down quickly. And I was also in the process of paring down to a 30 hour work week with a non-profit.

It’s pretty clear my lifestyle’s changed.

And I have as well, I was thinking as I took a second look at each of the possibilities before me.

I quickly rejected the handsome clocks. My time on earth is too short to sit and watch each minute tick by.

And diamond bracelets aren’t a must for my current wardrobe of three pairs of faded jeans, two sweatshirts, and a salt stained winter parka.

I then consulted my neighbor who advised me that deciphering the detailed instructions for a circular saw would clearly have me running in circles.

And once my late husband was diagnosed with dementia, I threw all formal dining out the window and became a permanent fan of plastic knives and forks.

I finally decided to set the big envelope aside for a while.

Instead, I stopped over at the local thrift store to take a look at a small rocking chair for $4.00.

I’ve downsized so much I don’t have chairs anymore for my grandkids to sit in when they stop by.

I found walking through the shop was like walking through my own personal history museum, as I’d donated so many items there.

To my left I saw my husband’s colorful collection of silk ties, neatly displayed next to several of his crisp blue checked shirts.

To my right were lovingly crafted pottery pieces that used to sit on our coffee table.

And in front of me was a display of our old crystal pieces.

There stood my tall Tiffany candlesticks, our beautifully etched bowls, and all my elegant vases.

I saw my favorite vase where I once displayed the yellow roses I received each anniversary.

I became a little melancholy.

But only briefly.

I know all the goods I donated will find the homes they deserve.

And I’m helping out a worthy local charity that does a great job of helping clients find food, housing, and jobs.

Today I went back again to view the gift website of my old employer.

And this time I saw something new that had been added.

The gift was described as a ‘creative vision’.

An ‘evolution’ of sorts.

One encased with color ‘creating a dramatic presence’.

The words made me think of what I want for this late chapter of a life.

I quickly hit the ‘send’ button.

An aqua infused crystal vase will be coming my way in 10 days.

It’s a simple gift really, yet shining with light.

And it will bring back color to a landscape once cloudy as it frames the yellow roses I’ll be growing in my new little garden.

What more could I possibly want?

What more could I possibly need?

Not one single thing.

Love Connection/Life Connection

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My first connection with handsome man Rex last month was somthing akin to speed dating.

I’d entered a room ripe in potential for love connections immediately upon arrival at the shelter.

“Hey there handsome guy,” I announced while approaching Rex’s pen, sandwiched tight between some boisterous hound dog brothers.

Only Rex turned around, cocking his elfin head, and thrusting his little chest forward.

We made immediate eye contact, then he ran over to greet me extending a tiny paw through the fencing in the gate.

Labeled extremely shy when he’d first arrived, this handsome man had made a miraculous recovery.

I hailed a kindly volunteer over to escort Rex and I to a ‘meet and greet’ room where we soon were sharing savory snacks and sparkling water.

I told him I really wasn’t looking for a year old pup, “being an aging woman and all, but I just wanted to meet you”.

He looked disappointed.

“You see Rex, I’m not one of those cougar women you hear about.”

He then gazed back up at me, seeming to understand, yet still determined to charm.

And boy, did he ever.

Rex was soon showing off his talents with the commands he’d already learned such as “sit”, “stay”, and “no”.

Rex also proudly displayed finesse at walking on a leash, an important gift to this graying woman before him for trips into the city.

I slid down onto the tile floor, where Rex immediately climbed onto my lap.

I told him tales of my sweet senior corgi, Maddie and her spunky senior Yorkie brother.

“That Tucker’s still got plenty of attitude”.

Rex looked up at me with his tiny brown eyes, amused.

Maybe that look of amusement, those brown eyes, and that blithe spirit is what finally captured my heart.

And my soul.

Especially when Rex kept sweetly licking my hand as I shared stories of the two senior dogs I lost last year.

“I’m guess I’m trading in loss for life,” I told him.

I shared part of our story with the shelter where I adopted Rex. https://quiltofmissingmemories.wordpress.com/2016/01/24/love-connectionlife-connection/

It’s since appeared on their Facebook page.

One popular comment was posted there afterwards asking, “Who rescued who?”

I know for sure I didn’t rescue Rex.

Nor did Rex rescue me.

I just fell in love that day with a little young man.

And I’m hoping he’s fallen in love with little old me.

Singing new songs

I’d nearly forgotten that it was two years ago tonight when my husband Richard passed until I saw a reminder on Facebook this morning.

I surely had forgotten how to celebrate Christmas in the days and years leading up to Richards’s death and right after.

But this year, I awoke from the ghosts of Christmas past to a new Christmas.

And it’s a simpler one.

The Christmas tree and the decorations went in a recent move. But they were replaced with a single garland, a string of lights on the mantle, and a handful of ornaments from my daughter.

I found it was enough.

I then went and bought myself a Christmas gift.

It’s a memoir by a local writer I once knew.

And I opened my door and heart to a new dog from the shelter.

That, too, was enough.

Or maybe more so. Time will tell.

And when I attended a crowded church service this week, I gave up my spot to a father and son who were late.

I’d already sung my carols.

It was time for the young.

After driving home on slick roads afterwards, I checked my mailbox for bills.

I found a small box next to it, covered in ice and firmly glued to the front step.

After carefully prying it off, I found a simple candle inside etched with a tree of life.

It’s bright and full of warmth when lit.

Tonight I see the light.

And it’s glowing right before me through that tree.

I have choral music playing softly on public radio.

And the dogs are at my feet.

Together, we’re singing new songs this Christmas.

Busy making our own kind of music.

Reflections on gratitude

Every year, this particular week is one of reflection for me.

Along with Thanksgiving, I acknowledge my birthday, and that of a brother who died too young.

And once there was a wedding anniversary.

It would have been 29 years of marriage this week if my husband Richard was still with me.

I find my memories of years gone by are as warm as they are cold.

The recollections of steamy windows and turkey bastings still fill my heart, even if the details of faces around the Thanksgiving table are fading.

And birthday party gifts of little pilgrim candles still dance happily in my head, though in one a bit fuzzier.

Yet dark November commutes on icy roads driving Richard to his adult day care center in his last years still send a chill up my spine.

My Spode Christmas mug companion, lined with mistletoe and hot coffee, would turn cold as Coke by the time I’d cross the city line to New Hope each morning.

I’d try hard to be ‘of cheer’ but would fail miserably.

Typically mumbling to myself, “New Hope? How about ‘No Hope’?” as I’d drive off from the facility downtown to work.

Dementia can do that to a caregiver.

But I’ve learned there was hope back then, and perhaps there always is.

Not of a spouse recovering from an illness where there is no cure, but of a caregiver coping with acceptance, loss and finally moving forward.

I drove to the store in sunshine today to replenish my coffee supply for my Christmas mug that now rests on the kitchen counter.

As I first walked through the door, I was greeted by the scent of buckets of yellow roses and a happy clerk restocking them.

I was definitely tempted.

The price was good, but I walked on by.

I can’t just buy them for myself, I thought.

But I stopped, shifted into reverse, then picked up a bunch along with my French Roast.

Smiling at the friendly check out clerk, I said, “These are terrific! Just like the ones I held at my wedding 29 years ago today.”

I added my husband was now gone.

His face saddened some, but then he smiled as well.

I watched him attach a sticker to the cellophane wrapping.

A “paid” sticker, I thought.

“Here,” he said, handing them back to me. “No charge. Happy Anniversary!”

I admit a tear rolled down my cheek.

Ok. Maybe two.

But my gratitude far exceeded any sadness.

And isn’t that how it should be every Thanksgiving week?

I’m voting yes.