Reinvention and resilence

“Get your ducks in a row,” the polished silver haired woman seated before me advised.

A few months after my husband Richard passed away from dementia, and a year after my Mom did the same, I thought I better see a grief counselor.

“Isn’t that what you’re supposed to do?” I’d asked myself one night in the mirror.

Previously I’d attended a group session for family members of those who’d passed while in hospice, but I left feeling worse then when I went in.

I no longer needed to share my tears and grief over Mom and Richard, but instead wanted to move on with my life. After a decade of caregiving responsibilities related to memory loss for both of my parents and my spouse, I was ready.

Yet I was still mourning what I saw as the loss of ten years of my life.

I felt I’d gone from middle aged to old with the snap of an arthritic finger.

So as I sat with this wise woman before me for my two sessions, I took her advice to heart.

I knew I wasn’t getting any younger, but getting my affairs in order so I could fully enjoy the rest of my days made good sense.

As I sat down by the lake this morning watching sailboats and the family of happy ducks before me, I reflected on the changes I’ve made in the last eight months.

I’ve swapped both houses and communities.

I retired early from my corporate career, and I’m now working in the non profit sector with children.

And I believe I am at peace.

Sharing a muffin with the ducks, I thought too of a former co-worker from my corporate days who experienced rough patches in her own life. She is now an accomplished and very talented poet.

I believe she’s very content and proud of a new book she just published that I finished earlier this morning.

She should be.

And I thought again of contentment as I greeted another former co-employee later at the farmers’ market, a few blocks up from the the lake.

This bright fellow’s become a farmer.

It was an unplanned lifestyle change, starkly different from his corporate life in the city, but it seems to agree with him.

Buying a bunch of red radishes from my friend, my eye caught a basket of colorful notecards with photos he’d taken on his beautiful farm.

An expression of pride immediately spread across his face as I selected the shot of a cheerful and smiling pig to send to an ailing friend.

“You know, these aren’t at all easy to capture on a pig’s face,” he told me, smiling wide as well.

After I left I was thinking how different ships come in during the course of our lives as we venture to different ports of call.

And we always encounter storms along the way.

But in the end, perhaps what provides us peaceful passage may just be those very smiles we give and receive.

Forever bloom

Some say, “Past her prime”…

Too weak and weighed down.
That shine is now dull.
Her bloom is long gone.
There’s no hope in sight.
But I see a stalk.
Still strong and so tall.
Stretched high to blue sky.
Faithful friend to the sun.
Until light fades to dark.
When she’ll be at rest.
Sharing fruits of the harvest,
Becoming next year’s very best.

And then there was light

A heavy dose of State Fair pronto pups and mini donuts were my goals for Friday when I’d originally asked to take the day off work. I’d planned on inviting my young granddaughter to join me. The weather forecast was promising wide smiles on the faces of fair goers.

But my plans changed as did the forecast.

I’d received an email back from a ship captain about a bucket list item I’d been putting off. It’s something I knew I needed to accomplish, but it would also present me with a tough challenge.

Yet I was determined to get it done before my milestone birthday in the fall. So instead of traveling to the fairgrounds I traveled south along the Mississippi River bluffs to a 40 acre lake.

I left early at 5:30 a.m. to leave plenty of time to make my appointment to meet the captain at a marina.

Navigating rolling country hills framed in late summer’s goldenrod and sunflowers, I felt I’d made the right decision. Especially if the thunder could be kept at bay.

And I even held tight a glimmer of hope the light might actually shine through.

To some, I was making this journey alone. Yet actually, I wasn’t. I was traveling with my husband’s ashes, and those of his mother’s to their final resting place.

My husband passed away the day after Christmas. His mother, almost three decades before. I’d never had the chance to meet her, but knew from my husband she was a beautiful woman inside and out.

As I drove, I said a silent prayer for strength as I knew there was some risk in accomplishing this honor without other family or friends at my side.

But scheduling conflicts and weather complications had interferred with earlier attempts. And with cooler weather coming and the captain’s schedule, I knew I had to quickly grab this time slot.

After I’d confirmed back to the captain’s email Monday night, I’d read a blog post by an author I admire, Jon Katz. His words summed up where I am on my cycle of grief and affirmed for me that I’d chosen the right path for my Friday:

“To celebrate life rather than simply mourn death and loss, to seek the light after the dark…Every day, we affirm our own existence, find our strength, and move forward into a place of love and purpose.”

I’ve wanted to find my own strength and move forward for a while.

And along with, it neatly press and fold grief and tough memories to place into drawers to close tight.

So as I walked the long docks yesterday to the slip and the 35 foot sailboat, I was happy to finally meet the captain.

He’s a man of great compassion who has experienced loss in his own life as well.

I knew this extra guidance would be a blessing for my trip.

We sailed on to the perfect spot, near a park on shore my husband always loved. As do I, and my daughter.

After taking care of the task at hand, I placed a couple of yellow roses in the water for my husband and pink ones for his mom.

The captain commented on how the roses seemed to be sailing off together in the gentle breeze.

Suddenly the clouds overhead broke up some, allowing the light to shine through.

And soon all the clouds sailed away, and the captain surprised me by asking that I take the wheel of the boat for a while.

Grabbing the wheel of a sailboat actually’s been another bucket list item for me.

The captain also asked me to smile for a picture. And it turned out the smile came much easier than I expected.

Afterwards, we docked and I stopped at a restaurant my husband and I always loved overlooking the water. I bought a green coffee mug made by a local potter whose home we’d vacationed at years ago.

The green represents renewal and growth for me. And the mug will be there always to remind me of my husband.

I was escorted by eagles soaring above the lake and then along the Mississippi for part of the drive back home.

Where I slept, longer than I have in over a year.

So did my dogs.

All at peace with decisions made, and this special day.

And as to the State Fair and those pronto pups?

They’ll be around next year.

Just like always.

Just breathe

Stress grows like Creeping Charlie.

Once the root’s tentacles grab a hold of your rich dirt, few weed killers ever take control.

But I admit I’ve been letting stress at work and home get the best of me this week.

So walking to the bus stop tonight, I was thinking how it would be a great evening for a long yoga class or a short run.

That is until I was overpowered by a 4300 pound SUV.

With me, the 130 pound ped in it’s way.

The female driver was leaving her parking garage too fast, and was oblivious to the fact that I was crossing the sidewalk.

Directly in front of her.

But I did come through unscathed.

I was on my usual high alert status since I’ve had plenty of near misses as a pedestrian in the business district of the city.

Now, I could have felt anger towards the woman who nearly hit me.

And probably would have in the past.

But I remembered how I used to rush out of the same ramp in snowy rush hour traffic to pick up my husband by a rigid 5pm deadline, back when he was in an adult care program.

Could this woman be hurrying to pick up a family member as well?

Maybe a son from soccer.

Or a daughter at dance.

Perhaps she was off to visit an ailing parent in the hospital.

Or even her own spouse.

So I decided to just give her a pass.

But I did rap gently on her hood and whispered the word ‘breathe’

I believe the driver got the message.

This evening I was able to find my own spot for peace and growth for a while.

I hope the woman escaped her own choking weeds of stress, and did the same.