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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

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Giggle, Laugh, Guffaw

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Sunday

It’s peaceful back here this morning.  I’m sitting on the pontoon boat, which is tied to the dock and rocking with the waves.  It’s warm, windy and sunny.  The sky is that particular shade of summer blue, clear and bright, clouds crossing and casting shadows.  They are heavy on the bottom, fluffy on the top.  Somewhere later today they will drop rain.

It’s Sunday.  Church day.  So I’ve come to my cathedral.  Some people feel closest to God inside a building, I am closest to Him here.  The woods are now thick with foliage.  A month ago you could walk through them, off the trails, with ease.  Now brambles grab at your clothes, hidden logs trip you.  It’s easy to imagine Indians lurking among the trees, studying the intruders to their land.  Of course, now the Indians are nephews, and they only attack my sanity occasionally.

There are so many metaphors here for my life.   The water in this lake is so clear.  If you drop a quarter in you can see it at least 25 feet down.  Why can’t life be that clear?    Why can’t I see 25 years ahead and know exactly what I should do in each and every situation?  Life now is more like the forest in summer,  full of  hidden dangers and treasures.  Brambles that catch you,  logs that trip you, wild animals that could attack you at any time.  I’d rather see a bear walking down the path toward me and have time to prepare, than stumble across one by accident.  I would rather see some of life’s troubles ahead of time, than be slammed in the face with them.  There are also hidden treasures.  Crest a hill, and you’ll see an unexpected field of wildflowers, purple, pink and yellow with blue lupine mixed in.  Move a pile of leaves, and you’ll discover neon toadstools standing proudly.

If I close my eyes, lean my head back and am still, I can sometimes hear God speaking.  His voice is in the rustle of the trees, the buzz of the dragonfly, the lapping of the waves.  It says be still my child and I will guide you.  For each trouble you encounter will make you stronger.  I will not give you more to bear than you can handle.  I will help you through them and teach you to pick them off as if they are simply the irritation of ticks.  They may leave a bite, they may leave a mark, but they will only be reminders of what you can overcome.  I will also give you unexpected treasures.  The smile of your grandchildren, the gentle touch of your husband, the laugh of your mother, the joy of spending time with your brothers and sister.

When I come to the woods, when I sit at the water’s edge, I am reminded to listen for his voice and bring stillness to my heart.  For it is in the stillness that I find peace, and the strength to face another day.

 

 

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Eventide

It is twilight here in the north woods.  That time of evening when the sun is tinting the clouds peach against the blue sky and yet the trees across the lake are darkening to a deep green.  No breeze bothers the glass surface of the water.  Birds trill their evening song, and an occasional frog croaks to his mate.  It’s that peaceful time of day where, if you are still enough you can hear the footfalls of deer as they make their way down to drink and see fairy lights begin to blink in the forest.  While all times of the year are magical in these forests, spring seems more so.

There is a special feeling in the woods at this time of year.  A soft carpet of green blankets the forest floor, inviting you to stray from the trail and take a stroll to the horizon.  Spring means renewal and regrowth, and as I wander through the trees I see the physical manifestations, young trees reaching up toward the sky, the soft green of new leaves on old trees.  I spot the brilliant white of trillium, a sure sign that winter is done.  First one, then two and then a whole swath upon the hillside.  More, I feel the hope that spring brings.  It seems to be in the very air that I breathe.

This winter was long and hard.  Temperatures well below zero and record snow falls mirrored the gloom in our lives.  A business closing, a son who lost his way, anxiety, anger and fear mixed with prayers.  And as the air warmed, the snow melted, anxiety began to lessen.  Spring in the north woods brings more ease, more hope.  If the forest can survive, and revive, if the trillium can once again bloom, so too can this family. Just as I saw first one, then two, then a trail of white flowers leading off, I believe there will be one prayer answered, then two, then a trail of blessings in this next year.

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