Passed Port

I decided to thin out my filing cabinet this weekend and came across my husband’s passport.

It was a wrench, I’m not gonna lie.  After years of declaring no want or need to travel outside the country, he had decided out of the blue the year before he died, that he was open to the idea of taking an overseas vacation.

The passport is pristine.  No stamps. Sadly, we never had a chance to wander the beaches of Cozumel or whatever destination on the world map that we may have stuck a pin in (likely a beach locale or maybe Ireland).

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Photo courtesy of my friend, Laura

My husband was not very flexible.  The idea of an uncharted adventure scared him.  But he had been changing in small ways, becoming more open to dipping his toes into the water of the unfamiliar.  If we had more time I am sure we would have embarked on an adventure or two that would have carried us beyond the beaches of Maine and Rhode Island.

I took the passport with his smiling photo, and those oh-so rosy cheeks, and threw it into the garbage can next to my desk.  I cried.  It was like throwing away a part of our dream, discarding the more adventurous man he would have become.

You stumble across these inanimate time bombs time and time again in your domestic travels.  A notebook scribbled with a list of items to buy at Home Depot.  A wallet and assorted pens kept in a front pocket – still on his dresser.  I was dusting our bedroom recently and came across a large box on a shelf that holds all of our wedding cards.

So hard to let go, since it seems like a betrayal to do so. But such a painful land to revisit.

 

 

Freshness date

I was standing in front of the refrigerator holding a jar of salsa that I am sure, had been purchased sometime during the Eisenhower administration.

(Ok, so they didn't have salsa back then.)

Keeping the fridge clean and up to date is I admit, not a strong suit of mine. I have hotdogs in the freezer that were purchased two years ago, and condiments? Don't even get me started! This concept of when is the time to let go should be easy when it comes to food: just check the expiration date, right?

Intangible concepts, such as emotional issues are more complex.  I had posted previously about a butterfly release ceremony  I attended a year ago this month.  I had asked an older woman at that ceremony who had lost her husband three years prior, if it gets easier and her gut reaction was "no."  It shocked me at the time but now I understand.

There is no black and white freshness date to let you know when things will be better after a loss.  I am a year and 4 months in and still have many days when it feels dewy fresh and raw.  However, I'm thankful for other days I find moments of joy and blessed distraction.

On a recent business trip to Miami, I was traveling back to our hotel with some colleagues after consuming a gorgeous gourmet meal and many glasses of wine.  During the ride one of my colleagues, a nice woman in her 40's who has been married for 20 years, took it upon herself to lecture me about being alone.

"Martha, you're young, you'll meet someone else.  It's time for you to try," she urged me, in what I had wished was a stage whisper, since everyone, including our silent and courteous driver Julio, could hear her loud and clear.

I tried to get her to stop, but alcohol and an all-knowing attitude would not be squelched. I find it offensive that anyone would tell me that my time of mourning should be over.  It may never be over.  Or it may be better tomorrow.  I may never want to engage with another partner at this stage and am totally fine with that.  Shouldn't everyone else be then too?

The lesson here is don't stamp people's feelings and actions with your own freshness date.  If you know someone struggling emotionally whatever it is, let them evolve on their own schedule.  Offer help, but give them space to adjust, grieve, make decisions about what to do next – and when.

"Eh…" I placed the salsa back on the refrigerator shelf and closed the door.

Maiden vs Crone

I am well into my second year since my husband’s passing, and alternate between thinking it’s getting better with days of blinding, debilitating despair.

It’s like that famous drawing – you look one way and see a fresh young maiden, tilt your gaze ever so slightly, a crone.  Now that a year of firsts have passed and some of the disbelief and numbness has dissipated, I find myself struggling with the reality of my new world order.  “So this is my life now,” I think as I drag myself out of bed each morning.

I’ve been trying to stay busy and so make a conscious effort to make plans with friends, which helps a lot. I even embarked on a 12-day British Isles cruise.  It was a mistake in hindsight.  I committed to it last year when my emotional wounds were fresh, and I assumed I’d be better by now.  I’ve spent too much time alone this past year to give up my solitude for such a long stretch.  Making small talk with a boatload of strangers on the open sea every day all day, was a lot more work than I had anticipated.

I did accomplish one cool thing, though.  While in Cobh, Ireland, I scattered some of James’ ashes into the water.  He loved being Irish, and loved the ocean.

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James’s ashes at the Titanic Memorial Park in Cobh, Ireland

But once I returned to dry land and was again faced with my singleness, pent up despair took a huge hit upside my head.  I am struggling to get back into my work routine, and make the days seem as though they matter.  They don’t really.  But maybe, if I tilt my head, ever so slightly, I can fool myself into thinking they do.

Fried chicken and resurrection

None of my Easter memories have anything to do with church.

When I was a kid, Easter meant loading up in the station wagon with my folks and a brown paper bag filled with crispy fried chicken and hitting the road.

If mom didn’t feel like cooking, we’d pick up our lunch at the Colonels and head out for a picnic, even if there was still snow on the ground, to a spot in Connecticut known as Frog Rock. (Yes, there’s a huge rock, and yes, it looks like a frog.)

Once there,  my mom would pass around the fried chicken and potato salad on paper plates and we’d sit and eat in the car before venturing out for our Easter egg hunt.  If the weather cooperated, we’d dine al fresco at a picnic table.

My favorite part of these memories however, were the walks we’d take through the woods led by my dad, after the eggs were gathered and last bits of coleslaw consumed. He’d point out various types of trees, and fauna and give us a rundown on their medicinal properties.  Once he stripped some bark off of a teaberry branch and had us hold it with our chicken greasy fingers to taste and smell the white, exposed flesh below. Yep, just like the chewing gum.

I thought my dad was the wisest man in the world.

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When I was a lot younger and we lived in the hollers of Tennessee or Kentucky (we moved a lot) we’d get dressed in our best finery and go to church.  Pictures of us standing on a dusty hillside in some coal mining camp seemed incongruous with the fluffy dresses, gloves and hats we proudly wore.  I don’t remember the church part.

My memories of Easter were of time spent with my family, of educational but fun walks through the woods, plates of greasy fried chicken, multi colored live chicks we kept for pets.  We worshiped at the altar of the Easter egg hunt, and aimless drives through the countryside.

I revisited Frog Rock when I was much older, but it had lost its luster.  It is, after all, not a magical place, but a small rest stop on the side of a busy road. The frog’s still there though.

 

Calling all Angels

I had asked my husband once why, with the plethora of terms of endearment – honey, sweetheart, babe, pookie – he called me his angel.

“Because you save me every day,” was his simple reply.

I mentioned in a January post that my friend Pam, had come up with this “six and six” idea, where we try something new together every month.  Last night, we went to the local high school and took an “Angels are all around us,” type class.

I entered the media center of the school (I missed the memo that libraries are now called media centers) and met our teacher, a kind-looking woman who is also a Reiki Master, and waited for Pam.  As it turned out, we were the only pupils in the class and so had her undivided astral attention.

Many people believe that spirit angels are around us all of the time.  There could be one, or many.  They have names, and a gender association, but are not in the traditional human form we were shown in bible school.

“It’s OK to ask your angels for advice and guidance,” she said as we got into this topic.  I had trouble with this initially.  It seemed awfully self-serving and petty to ask an enlightened being for help finding my glasses or for a better parking spot at the mall, but apparently, that’s what they’re for.

Our instructor had lost her sister five years ago, and was seeing signs everywhere.  She showed us a stack of photos of heart-shaped and butterfly-shaped stones, snow formations, fog on the glass of her living room window – all signs, she knew, that her sister was still with her in spirit.

I can believe that.  After all, I had some experiences once James had passed, that were too coincidental to brush off.  There was the acorn thingy I had once posted about.

However, when she started to show us pictures she had taken of vanity car license plates with sayings like “gogirl” and “livefree” and said those were signs to her, Pam and I both agreed afterwards, well, maybe that’s a stretch.

After a lively conversation around angels, the hereafter and lost loved ones (I never said I was Molly Sunshine) Pam and I settled on the floor for a hypnosis session wherein we would invite our own personal angel(s) to come forward.  We laid down on the library/media center floor with our blankets and pillows and tried to relax.  It was hard! (To relax and the floor.)  It’s difficult to still the voices of our egos, which are trying to crowd our thoughts.  I was reviewing work conversations from the day, or thinking of the drive home and what I would eat when I got there (Skittles).

Our instructor guided us with questions to invite in our angels and ask them their names (no response), how many were there (I think three), and for them to be open to helping us with life’s many travails (I can only hope).

pexels-photoI did not see anything but some swirling blue light.  The instructor said afterwards that was an angel sign.  I think I may have three angels – or it could simply be that I had talked earlier about how James was obsessed with the number three.

Pam was not totally sure if she was visited either.  She did see some sort of white, amoeba-like pattern once she was supine, but again who knows?

I think this is a practice that needs to be practiced to be appreciated.  We were first timers as Pam pointed out, not having spent a lifetime of seeing signs and having spiritual visitations, as our instructor had.

Like a muscle never properly flexed, perhaps it is simply a matter of training.  I like to think I’m open-minded enough to keep trying.  Pam and I have agreed to carve out time to clear our thoughts and invite in our angels.  We’ll compare notes as we go along.

After all, what do we have to lose?

View from the back seat

When I was a kid my dad had a 1960’s white over green Volkswagen bus.

It certainly came in handy with four kids (I don’t count my oldest sister Anna, who had run off and eloped at that point).  But it also came in handy in another way.  My dad used to run a carpool with some of his co-workers.  I’d like to say it was done in the spirit of cutting down on air pollution, but the more pragmatic truth is he looked at it as a way to bring in extra cash to support his large family.

Nowadays, our most sacred personal spaces – which also represent our biggest financial investments – have been put on the payroll as inanimate employees, money-making machines.

I’m talking about the hundreds of thousands of people making a buck by opening up their homes and garages to strangers through services such as Uber, Lyft, Airbnb and VRBO.

I applaud their entrepreneurship, and am all for finding more independent means to make a living.  I just haven’t fully grasped how our society has evolved to the point where it’s the norm to share so much of our coveted personal space with strangers.

Wrapping up my latest business trip in Dallas, I scheduled a Lyft ride from my hotel to DFW airport.  Once I engaged the app, a photo of a smiling middle-aged woman popped up along with the make and model of her car, and how many minutes away she was from my hotel (only three – sweet!).

On-line transport services are super convenient and certainly inexpensive.  The same 11-mile drive by taxi would have been almost double what my driver Linda charged me to ride in her own car.  However, there is a non-monetary price to be paid. I have noticed that many of the drivers I have had are super-chatty. They are quick to regale you with their life story in a 20-minute transport. The stories although poignant to them, are much the same, and not exactly NY Times feature story fodder. I’m usually coffee-deprived and tired on business trips, or focused on the task to come, and so not feeling terribly chipper.

By the time Linda had dropped me off at the airport (after missing my gate exit the first time because she was so absorbed in reciting her personal history) I knew that she had an 89-year-old father whom she lived with, her mom had died the previous year, and she was (happily) divorced.

Maybe it’s just because these are the kind of personal tidbits I only share with people I have known say – at least for a 100 miles – but it seems like ride-sharing is also a license for over-sharing.  But then again, if I am someone like Linda who likes to talk filter-free and is friendly, opening up my car and life in a business venture makes all kinds of sense.  After all, she has a steady stream of fresh fares to tell her stories to ( I can only imagine everyone at the family picnic has heard them several times before).

Ridesharing is a billion-dollar industry.  One source reveals Uber rides over the past five years have traveled a distance equivalent to a round trip to Saturn (bulk up those snack supplies, Linda).  I say this because Linda had gone to great pains to make her car as homey and home-like as possible.  She had complimentary snacks and water in the back seat for my transportation pleasure, although they were hung over the seat in a shoe-bag type contraption that knocked against my knees.  A flower-covered journal with pen was perched on the side of the front passenger seat headrest in the event I wanted to jot down a personal recollection to share with future travelers, much as you would see in the lobby of a B&B:

Buffy and I truly enjoyed our stay in the back seat of Linda’s Ford Fusion! The protein bars were superb, and seatbelts did not choke or bind in the slightest! (Smiley face)

And this sharing of personal space extends beyond the garage.

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Before I got married some years back, I was talking to my brother on the phone, basically bitching about the fact my future husband wanted us to move out of my cute, albeit small lake house into his childhood home.  I really loved my little house, and did not have the five-plus decades of good memories growing up in just one home as he had.

My brother, never one to mince words, stated tersely, “do you want a marriage or a house?”

It took me back a bit. “A marriage, of course,” I mumbled into the phone, rather petulantly.  I’ve posted before how my current house (back on same said lake) is both my private sanctuary, and since James’ death, akin to a well-appointed coffin.  But it’s my coffin.

And nowadays, more that 50 million people use Airbnb to find that “at home” experience at someone else’s sanctuary.  I have benefited many times from booking these online “home away from home” places which are certainly less impersonal and less costly than most hotels.  Yes, I’ve had ‘nary a bad experience – if ‘nary means “almost” no bad experiences.

A recent trip with friends to Vermont to a rustic and charming farmhouse was enjoyable, and only blighted once we had left the premises.  We spread out our things in the comfy den and settled into our own bedrooms.  The house was owned by a cheerful young woman and her husband, who were new to the rent your home biz.

On the ride back to Connecticut the next day, one of my friends shared that the night before she had encountered a few antennae-wiggling creatures in her room.  There were even more in our shared bathroom, she revealed.  (I won’t say what they were, but it sounds a lot like ‘sock- coaches.’)  “Eeeewww!” Was my immediate response, nearly driving us off of the snow-slicked road.

Once home, I shook out all of my belongings on the back porch to ensure no uninvited, non-paying guests dared move into my private abode.  

The old and flu season

My friend Laura, certainly the most fit person I know, made a seemingly innocuous admission recently that has stuck with me.

While on vacation in Maine with her husband, they were out enjoying some cross country skiing. Out for a couple of hours, he turned to her and asked if she wanted to continue on the set of trails they’d yet to explore.

“I said no, I’m good.”

It doesn’t sound like much, calling it a day, but Laura is an animal. I mean, this woman went running through thigh-high snow some years back right after minor leg surgery!

Now, maybe she was just bored by the steady swoosh of the dogged ski trail, or maybe she is at an age and stage where having to push through the limits is no longer such an attractive option.

I find myself using that phrase “age and stage” a lot lately, now that I am closer to the north side of 60.

A recent two-week bout with the flu not only left me weak, but weirdly took away my senses of taste and smell. What fresh hell is this? I thought to myself. Then, due to my illness-induced inactivity, I messed up my shoulder in Ashtanga yoga class.

Ok, enough is enough. I get that millions are impacted by the flu. But am I at that crossroads where all signs say, “Proceed with caution – you’re past the double nickel and all minor ailments will last longer, carrying forward a piquant aftertaste that lasts well beyond the last bitter sip.” (Yeah – too long for a sign, I know!)

The saying “time heals all wounds” is not true when it comes to grief, and certainly not applicable to aging. I’m certainly not on my last legs, and Laura can still rock a bikini like nobody’s business. But it gives you pause, the domino effect of minor aches and pains, and how they awaken thoughts of the decrepitude to come.

Aren’t you just dying to invite me to your next baby shower?