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.

Simple gifts, and some so grand

With the gift of a breeze that’s got my back, I pick up my pace in warm sunshine.

I’m out for early for a walk, a nearby lake my destination.

To the serenade of robins, I feel light on my feet as I jog past bee friendly yards and a bird friendly coffee shop.

I fumble for any loose change in my pockets.

I’m on a budget, but I know one cup of of dark roast won’t burn too big of a hole.

I’ve grown to love exploring my new neighborhood on Sundays after downsizing last fall to a new place.

Today I’m searching for any simple gifts I might find.

Feeling optimistic, I open the first little free library I encounter across from the lake.

Inside, planted next to an old copy of The New Yorker, I see neatly labeled packages of seeds for pole beans.

I grab one for a small raised bed I’ve been preparing and put it in my back pack.

One block further west, I encounter five more free libraries all proudly standing in front of the local hardware store.

I gravitate to one painted lilac and pull out a book on Alzheimer’s.

But I pass.

I know more than I’d like after a decade of caregiving.

I try again.

This time I find a children’s book on art and another on ants inside.

Perfect for my granddaughter and little grandson I think.

I’m embarrassed by my riches as I’ve left nothing in return. Yet I smile as I think back to last fall when I gave away so much as I moved.

But did I really?

After my walk, I return home to my small cottage to place screens in the windows of my tiny porch.

At 895 square feet, some may consider my cottage to be a closet, but I find it a castle.

I soon feel the breeze again, dancing now with the white curtains teasing my shoulders as I sit on the little love seat on my porch to relax.

I’m more than content as I survey the space before me.

I’ve been longing for a sweet little porch, just like my grandmother’s, since I was six years old.

And now that I’m a grandma myself, I finally have one to call my very own.

What a gift it is, though not simple at all.

I’m calling this one mighty grand.

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.

Kudos for those who care

Bouquets for the caregivers,
Wherever they may be.
So tireless and devoted,
Often others do not see.

Sharing love with those who try,
But can’t be understood.
Giving their warm hugs and hands,
I so wish everyone would.