Simple Words of Strength

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My husband Richard passed away three years ago tonight, but I find myself celebrating in a way.

Sure his life was cut too short, and his early onset dementia was cruel, yet most of his days were good ones.

It seems Richard knew how to live well.

His life was never a rich one monetarily, but it was in experiences, accomplishments, and in his work with the arts community.

Richard also knew how to laugh.

A lot.

And mostly, at himself.

The first time I met Richard at a dinner party, he was already making the others guests hysterical while describing a crazy New Year’s Eve just spent with an elderly aunt in Boston.

And Richard would always be the first to chuckle at the graduate school pictures of himself from the 70’s with his long brown hair, skinny torso, and Barnaby Street bell bottom suits.

By the time I met him a decade later at the party, he was sporting instead a marine cut, balding white hair, and a slight Santa pot belly masked under preppy flannels.

I believe I admired most Richard’s ability to share his loving heart with others.

And often to those with the greatest need.

Richard was the first to mention the idea of adopting a very special 12 year old girl from Russia. And did he ever LOVE to spoil this girl after our adoption was finalized and we all came back together to the U.S.

That special girl grew to become one very special lady. She, along with her young family, came over today for a belated Christmas celebration.

We had a joyful time dancing in our family room and I hadn’t thought about today’s anniversary until she pulled out one of Richard’s old graduate school photos from her purse. I then glanced briefly at some later photos of Richard on the book shelves behind her and smiled.

Perhaps in this last week of 2016, I should now be thinking about jotting down my resolutions for the new year.

Like lose that extra ten pounds or find the best job ever.

But I don’t really need too.

I’ve just realized my resolutions have been right here behind me in my family room, and in bold, ever since I down sized into my new home.

Just three short words can say it all, and I will practice them every day.

“Live, laugh, love.”

Sounds like a whole lot more fun than going on a diet.

And after all, life is just too short.

Dignity, with a dose of joy

Grief is a funny thing.

Or maybe not.

You think you’ve got proper protection then something bites you in the backyard.

Just like a big old mosquito.

I was outside playing with the dogs tonight when I got stung.

There laying on the freshly cut grass before me was my loving corgi Maddie. My girl’s close to 14 now and she was looking lethargic with her head down on the ground.

One of Maddie’s backlegs is lame, and now the second seems to be slowing down as well.

I joined her on my stomach anyway right next to her, and started snapping pictures.

But that usual magical spark was missing in Maddie’s eyes which was bringing me down even lower.

My girl’s expression reminded me of the words my paternal grandmother shared with me in her eighties.  “It’s hell getting old,” Grandma would often say before she passed from Alzheimer’s a few years later.

I stopped and thought for a moment about about those I’ve lost in in my life, particularly in the last 3 or 4 years.

There once was a mother, one husband, and three sweet senior dogs.

Mom, my spouse Richard, and even one of the dogs had dementia. And yet they all managed to keep happy in spite of their illnesses.

Perhaps even happier than my late corgi Mariah and chi-doxie Greta who held on to their cognitive skills till the day each of them passed on.

I began to scratch Maddie’s soft belly for a while to calm her and to calm me.

Suddenly a mourning dove began to croon on the weathered fence post behind us, but it wasn’t a sad song at all.

Then a monarch darted and danced right past Maddie’s black nose demanding her attention before taking off for the barbecue next door.

Soon I saw joy and dignity return to Maddie’s face.

And I felt a growing smile on mine as my camera hooked just the shot I was looking for.

It’s definitely a keeper.

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.

State of Confusion

I live in a state of confusion.

But a much wiser woman gave me some solid advice earlier this year after my husband passed away.

And her message was simple.

Life would be easier once my financial affairs were in order, and to have fun as life is short.

In hindsight, I’m not sure those 2 conflicting priorities should ever sit in the same sentence.

For months now I’ve been trying to clean up three small small estates. Beside’s my husband’s, there’s one for Mom and another for Dad.

I’ve been wondering if there’s even a dining room table sitting below all those forms and documents anymore.

I do know I haven’t eaten on it since Christmas.

But tonight, I decided to opt for the “hey, life is short” part of the equation.

In Minnesota that means taking advantage of gorgeous days whenever one breezes through. And this afternoon our fall temps rose all the way to 70 degrees.

That is big stuff out here in the snow belt.

We’ve already dipped deep into our annual season of confusion with young gals wearing shorts with their UGG boots and fur trimmed mittens.

And the guys are still going shirtless some days, flexing their tattoos down at the town beach with their thick wool caps pulled tight over their ears.

And their eyes.

Now I had no plans myself for any shorts or shirtless activity but I still drove down to join them after work, parking my own purple parka in the Subaru.

Though I admit I did strip off my morning wool socks so I could wear the flip flops I’d filed in the car trunk, right next to the snow brush and the estate form I’d misplaced.

After our group admired the fall colors and plentiful sunshine, we all bought chocolate ice cream cones to cool off.

And then some steaming hot cocoa to warm ourselves up.

I guess we really are confused out here.

Or maybe it’s just me.