Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Nightmares of the soul

Once again, I sit outside in the dawn light, computer on my lap, trying to write. The sun is coming up, highlighting the oranges, reds and yellows of the trees across the lake. But through my tears I don’t see their beauty. A month ago, I sat outside on the front porch at home, staring out at the dimming darkness, trying to write the hardest thing I have ever written in my life – my husband’s obituary.  Now, I sit on the deck at the lake, Lobo at my feet attempting to make sense of it all, wondering how I can go on without him.

I call this nightmares of the soul, because I no longer have any daydreams. He took those with him when he decided to leave. I only have nightmares. Nightmares of finding him, covered in blood. Nightmares of guilt. Why didn’t I, the person closest to him, see how much pain he was in? You see, my husband didn’t just die – he chose to die. Suicide is an ugly word, an ugly act. It leaves those left behind with a hole in their lives that can never be filled. Death of all kinds leaves a hole, but suicide consumes you with questions of why. It leaves you with no time to prepare for the grief, no sense that death is a natural progression of life. It’s a life abruptly ended with a single gunshot. A single gunshot that took not only his life, but mine as I knew it as well.

We were supposed to grow old together. It took us so long to find each other in this life, and  we had so many plans. Plans for travel, to beaches, to return to Ireland. Plans for dinners, and parties, and walks in the woods. Why couldn’t he tell me of his despair? Everyone tells me how wonderful it was to see how much he loved me, but if he did, how could he do this? The grief of his loss is unbearable. It eats at me day and night, each day I miss him more.

I sit in this place that he loved, in a place where he always found peace, and wonder why didn’t he come here and ground himself again? Feel the leaves crunch under his feet, smell the forest, stare into a fire burning brightly in the fireplace? I have no answers, I have no why.

There are so many that miss him. Our boys, our grandchildren, brothers, sister, mother, my parents and siblings, nieces and nephews, friends. I grieve for their loss, as well as mine. But the nightmare is mine alone. And I’m afraid I will never wake up from it.Tim with flowers

Advertisements

Giggle, a light silly laugh. Laugh, lively amusement. Guffaw, a loud and boisterous laugh.  It’s a progression. Sometimes you have to start at the beginning, and work your way up.

After a very hard year, I’m working my way up from giggle to guffaw. Some days I can giggle, some days I can laugh. I haven’t reached guffaw yet, but I feel I’m on the verge.  There are many things that make me giggle or laugh these days. Listening to my fourteen-year old granddaughter talk about a book she’s reading makes me giggle. It’s so good to know that she loves books as much as I do.  I watch her, walking with her nose in a book, much as I used to (okay, I still do).  I laugh when my six year old grandson and I blow a stream of bubbles and then try to catch them.  Or when the goofballs we call dogs have a romp in the backyard.  It is pretty silly looking to see the 20 pound Westie chasing the 180 pound Pyrenean Mastiff.

There are loud laughs, quiet laughs, and laughs that just won’t stop.  Giggles at breakfast, and in the middle of the night. Laughter of any kind brings relief, excitement, joy. Laugh, and you can literally feel the tension leaving your body.  It just melts away.  Sometimes it is hard to find something to laugh at. Sometimes, the world just seems to dark and dreary. But if you can find something to make you giggle, or laugh, or heaven help you, guffaw, you’ll find the world just a little bit lighter, a little less dreary. Go ahead, try it.  If it seems too hard, start with a smile.  That’s where all laughs start. With a gentle upturn of the corners of your mouth.

What things make you giggle and laugh?  When’s the last time you’ve had a good old fashioned, belly aching,  guffaw? Tell me about them, and I’ll have a laugh with you too.

Family Quilt

Just recently my mother-in-law gave me a very special gift.  A quilt, hand made by her, fabrics chosen with care to reflect things that I care about – fabric with letters because of my writing, with books because I love to read, with wine, well, because I like to drink wine, and with a cabin in the woods, to show where my heart is at peace.  There is a hand quilted border of hearts, stitched by the lovely ladies of a quilting society – average age of 90 I believe.  It is a beautiful piece of work that I was so honored to receive.  As I sat and looked at it the other day, I realized that while the pieces of the quilt are pretty, it is putting them all together that makes them beautiful.  It occurred to me that our family is like that too.  Our family is a quilt of many pieces that make up a beautiful whole.

There are different names for quilt patterns.  There is the bears paw, or the birds in the air.  There is the double square and grandmother’s cross.  There’s the wheel of fortune and the wedding knot.  While each pattern is beautiful on it’s own, they are just pretty squares of fabric until they are sewn together, backed with fabric, and quilted in place.  When I look at my family, I see us more as a crazy quilt – made up of irregular pieces, exotic fabrics and embellished in different ways.   Individually, we are all unique.   There is my sister, beautiful like my mother.  She is a teacher at heart, lover of all the things in the forest, at times insecure, at times fearless, always full of faith.  There is my younger brother, who creates masterpieces with his video camera, so assured and certain and the grin of a little boy.   There is my older brother, troubled, anxious, fearful but caring beyond words for all pieces of this quilt.  There is my brother-in-law, hardworking, with an engineer’s mind and logic, determined to provide safety and comfort for his family.  My sister-in-law is another creator – with her camera she shows the beauty of the world around us.   Three nephews – the warrior, the dreamer and the curious. Two grandchildren – the actress and the imp.  My sons, handsome and strong, one a scholar, one a man who creates with his hands.  My husband, loving and patient with us all.  We are all the pieces of this crazy quilt called family.  And the backing?  The stitching?  That would be my mother and my father.  The fabric and thread that holds us and binds us.

We are not a new quilt, fresh and clean like the one I just got.  We have been worn and torn, washed and mended.  At times the quilt seems too heavy, too warm, like a heavy wool blanket on a hot summer night.  We push it off, fold it down at the end of the bed.  At others, it is the warmth that is needed to sustain us through the cold and we reach for it with gratitude.

There is a label on the inside of my quilt, with a blessing.  It says:

“May green be the grass you walk on,

May blue be the sky above you,

May pure be the joy that surrounds you,

May true be the hearts that love you.”

Our grass has not always been green, nor have our skies always been blue.  We have not always been surrounded in joy, we have had our share of heartache, sadness and worry.  But the hearts that love us are true, and they are the warmth of our family quilt.

Shonas

DSC02349The afternoon sun is filtering through the leaves, green to light green as the breeze rustles through.  I sit in my tower and listen as an oriole sings.  Wheet…wheet wheet….wheeta wheeta wheeta.  I’m surrounded by windows up here, high in the treetops of what we call the eagles nest.  Aristotle said “Happiness is the settling of the soul into its most appropriate spot”.  And I am in my most appropriate spot.  My soul is happy.

As Dad and I drove to the north woods this morning, as each mile passed, I could feel myself becoming lighter.  It was as if little pieces of worries were just falling off with each turn of the wheels.  For the next week or so, there will be peace and quiet here.  Time to write, time to read, time to sit and breathe the forest.  In a couple of weeks, the woods will ring with shouts, there will be laughter and splashes on the lake, as my brothers and sisters, nephews, and grandchildren all make an appearance in this blessed place.  And it is a blessed place.

We call it Shonas, which means a piece of heaven, and for our family, it is a piece of heaven.  Not just the cabin, which is lovely and unique, but the entire property, the lakes, the woods, the trails, even the swamps.  There is magic here.  When you are quiet, when you listen closely, you can hear the footsteps of deer as they make their way down to the shore to get a drink.  As the sun begins to set, you hear the mournful cry of the loons.  In the early morning light an eagle will perch on a branch 30 feet away.  When you are tired, or troubled, the woods will bring you peace.

There is the magic of a child’s wonder, as you watch them watch a fish swim under the pier.  There is the magic in  their shrieks as they take their first jump into the cool waters of the lake.  In the awe in their eyes as they watch a fawn cross the path no more than a hundred feet in front of them.

There is the magic of conversations with siblings that I see far too seldom.  Of shared tasks and silly jokes.  Of quiet talks with my dad, and tales told by my mom.  Shonas is a place where time can, for a bit, stand still.  And that is magic.  It is why my soul feels that it is in the “most appropriate spot” and I am happy.

To be 5

His face is bright and shining as he meets us at the door, blue eyes sparkling as he hops from one foot to the other in excitement.  Pizza with pineapple and Canadian bacon is on its way, Grandpa has gift bags in his  hands and Gramma has balloons.  One balloon has a monkey on it, one has Ninja turtles and one has a cake with candles.  Oh, birthdays are soooo exciting when you are 5!

“Gramma , Gramma, look at the cake!  I helped decorate it!  Can I open my presents now?  Can I?  Pleeeaase?  Look what Mommy and Daddy got me!  An airplane that drives on the ground with a remote!  And a bulldozer!  Look, it can pick up the Legos!  You brought root beer! I LOVE root beer!! ”  Hardly stopping to take a breath, he darts from one thing to another, proudly showing off what he can do with his new toys.

Laughing, Grandpa sets the gift bags on the table.  “EJ, let us get our coats off!  Happy birthday, buddy.  That’s a pretty cool airplane!”  “I picked it out all by myself.  See, it can go forward and it can turn.  Watch out for the propellers, Grandpa, they might hurt you.  Can I open my presents now?” “Ok, Ok.  let’s take them over here.  Let Gramma sit down by you.”

I sit cross legged on the floor next to the big gift bags decorated with Mickey Mouse.  Tissue paper starts flying.  Out of one comes a small train set.  Out of the other comes packages with more train cars.  There were circus cars, and flatbed cars carrying tanks, and passenger cars, and more engines.  Oh, and at the bottom of the bag a shirt and a pair of pants.  Those just get tossed to Mom.

“Open this, open this”, he hands each of us a set of train parts.  Sissy gets the circus train, Gramma gets the tracks.  Daddy gets the screwdriver so he can put the batteries in the engines.  Once the tracks are open, EJ grabs them from my hands and takes them to his Daddy.  Down on hands and knees, on the kitchen floor, the two of them start to build the track.  Dark heads together, deciding which piece goes where.  For a moment, I see two 5 year-olds.  They look almost exactly the same.  Same blue eyes, same long eyelashes, same dark hair, same infectious grin.  They could have been twins.  Then I blink my eyes and see that one is really almost 32 years old.  Sigh, somedays I wish he really was 5 again.

The track is together, batteries are in the engines and in the railroad crossing.  Excitement as the cars are hooked up and set on track.  Laughter as they derail.  Wait, wait!  A dragon has to be set up next to the tracks to guard them.  Wait, wait!  The bucket of the back hoe has to be filled with Legos to dump on the train.  Pizza, just put it there Mom.  I’m busy right now.

Finally, he wants cake.  White cake, with white frosting and sprinkles on top.  Mommy makes good cake.  The lights are dimmed, the candles lit and a chorus of Happy Birthday sung.  EJ's 5th birthdayMake a wish, blow out the candles.  Two bites of cake, and it’s back to the train.

It’s time for Gramma and Grandpa to go.  He reaches to be picked up.  Arms around my neck, a great big squeeze, and then, he lays his head on my shoulder.  I love you, monkey boy.  I love you too, Gramma.

A New Year

The Christmas decorations are down and put away for another year. The Christmas tree stands out in the backyard, needles still green against the snow, a shelter against winter storms for the birds my dad loves to watch.  We are now in the second month of the new year, and if you have made a New Year’s resolution, chances are it has already been broken.  Not because you haven’t tried, but so often life gets in the way of those noble ideas that we have on the dawn of a new year.  I don’t usually make New Year’s resolutions anymore.  Yes, I want to lose weight.  Yes, I want to exercise more.  Of course I want to eat healthier.  Don’t we all? But I’ve made and broken those resolutions more times than I can count.  So, I didn’t make a resolution this year, but I did make a promise to myself.  This year, no matter what, I will rediscover joy.  For you see, somewhere over the last year and a half, I lost it.

This last year has been a difficult one.  There have been many changes in my life.  Some of them have been good, some of them have been bittersweet, and some of them have been downright painful.  On the good side, we completed the move back to my childhood home, to be here for my parents.  I love that we are here, in the same home.  I love to hear them talk, to know that I am here if they need me.  My youngest son graduated from high school with honors, received academic scholarships to college, and is thriving there. I’ve reconnected with friends that I grew up with, and discovered that they are pretty fascinating women.

We’ve had 2 dogs cross over to the rainbow bridge.  My dad’s sweet Maqua and our happy little sweater dog Lucky.  Their loss was and is still painful.  But a new clown joined our circus and Lobo entertains us daily.  Most painful of all have been the struggles of my oldest.  He lost his way, tried to find solace in a bottle, which has only lead to legal troubles and heartache.  I have felt the weight of his mistakes around my shoulders.  I want so badly to “fix” everything for him, and know that I cannot.

And so, while navigating through all the changes, the joy I’ve had in life seems to have gotten away from me.  It’s not in one of the boxes I haven’t unpacked from the move (I looked, there’s nothing labeled joy).  I didn’t leave it in Indiana.  I’m sure it’s here somewhere, but like the box of dress clothes I couldn’t find, I think it will take some looking to find it again.

The promise I made to myself was to find one thing, everyday, that gives me joy.  Whether it’s the sight of a cardinal, red against the falling snow, taking shelter in that old Christmas tree, or a 120 pound puppy chasing his tail, or being ordered around by my 5-year-old grandson, or my husband wrapping his arms around me each day when he comes home, there are things to find joy in.  I just need to look for them. We are meant to have joy in our lives.  I think that there is always some little thing that can give us joy everyday, if only we look for it.  What are ways that you find joy?  When life seems hard, and as gray as a winter’s day, where do you look to find a smile? Leave me a comment – I’d like to know.

Tis a gift

I just have to say it, I love weddings.  Whether it’s a grand affair, or a simple ceremony, the hope and love, the promise of a bright future always touches my heart.  Sometimes, we aren’t too sure whether the wedding will result in a real marriage or not, one where both people give and take, where both do everything to make it work, and not just one that won’t last through the first life crisis.  And sometimes it is so evident that the ceremony we are witnessing is the true public expression of soul mates.   Yesterday, I had the honor of attending a wedding that was truly a blessing.  In the chapel of a monastery, high upon a hill, two people joined hands as the bells chimed and promised to love each other till the end of their days.  Part of the ceremony was a song called “Tis a Gift to be Simple”.  It was a reflection of how this couple has lived their lives, and how I try to remember to live mine.  The first verse that we sang is this:

“‘Tis a gift to be simple, ’tis a gift to be fair – ‘Tis a gift to wake and breathe the morning air,  And every day to walk in the path that we choose, ‘Tis the gift we pray we never come to lose. When true simplicity is gained, To bow and  to bend we shan’t be ashamed To turn, turn will be our delight, ‘Til by turning, turning we come ’round right. ”

What does is mean to be simple?  What does it mean to be fair? Simple means that we don’t have to have a lot of physical trappings in order to be happy.  It means having gratitude for the things that we do have. It truly is a gift to have gratitude.  To be thankful that we wake, to be thankful that we can choose our path each and every day.  We can make the choice every day to be thankful for all that we have, or we can make the choice to concentrate on all that we don’t have.  We can think about all the ways we have been wronged, or we can think about all that is good in our lives. If we lose the gift of gratitude, we lose the gift of choice, for we will no longer be able to see that we have a choice.

Some days it is very hard to remember to be gentle and fair.  When we feel slights, when we have been wronged, when we are hurt beyond words, it is easy to see only our side.  Being fair means trying to look at the other side.  Not just in marriage, but with our children, our parents and siblings, in all our relationships.  It is a gift to others be able to be fair to them but it is more of a gift to ourselves.

When I look back on my life, it is the simplest things that have brought the most delight.  A walk in the woods with my husband, a glass of wine with a friend.  The curiosity of my grandchildren, a conversation with my sons.  A snuggle with a puppy, an afternoon with my dad, or a talk with my mom.  As the next verse of the song says, “Tis a gift to be loving, ’tis the best gift of all, like a quiet rain it blesses where it falls”.  And that’s what all of the simple things have in common, the gift of loving.  Not just being in love, but loving. To be able to “bow and bend and not be ashamed, to turn, turn will be our delight, ’til by turning, turning we come ’round right”.  It takes love, it take loving to admit we’ve made mistakes, we’ve been on the wrong path, or we’ve hurt others.  It takes loving to keep turning until we come around to the right path in life.  It is a gift.

That’s what the wedding reminded me of yesterday.  While it was clear that these two were in love, it was also clear that they were loving.  They have the greatest gift, and they bless us all.