Monday, September 28, 2009

Choosing the Good Part

Back in the days before the new-fangled invention of blogging, there was something called "journaling". It involved taking a pen and a notebook and writing your thoughts by hand. 

I began journaling in 1987 after the birth of my son. I filled looseleaf  notebook after looseleaf notebook over the past 22 years. When one got too full to hold anymore paper, I wrote the dates it covered on the spine, stored it in a box and bought a new notebook. At last count, I have 11 filled journals. Doing the math? Each one contains about two years worth of poems, prayers and promises. And John Denver lyrics, apparently.

Anyhoo, the edition that contained the first two years of Dave's battle with cancer went missing soon after I filled it and filed it away. It was not the happiest of tomes. I vaguely remember wondering if Dave had taken it to read and mislaid it during that time. Occasionally, I'd look behind and underneath furniture thinking maybe I'd put it somewhere for safekeeping. And then promptly forgot where that safe place was.

I remember telling Young Son, who was about 15 at the time, that I was sad it was missing because it was such a pivotal era of our lives. In simple teenaged wisdom he said, "Maybe it is better that it is gone. Now you don't have to relive all those memories." That sort of settled it for me, and I just kind of grudgingly accepted there was a two-year gap in my history.

Fast forward to yesterday. The A/C unit in that strange closet in the hallway froze up (or some other technical term) and leaked water. I put a towel down under the unit to catch the drips and decided to change the filter while I was in there. D had left a spread sheet encased in plastic that chronicled all the filters he had changed, month by month, for the past 7 years. There were also all the receipts of cleanings and repairs of this unit. I had never changed a filter before, but was fairly confident I was doing it correctly. I stood back to admire my work and noticed a package wedged to the side of the closet. It was wrapped in heavy plastic and secured with silver duct tape.

I took it into the living room to open it, and found my missing journal. Freed from its closet home of 7 years. Obviously, D had wrapped it and put it in there. And I was left to speculate on his reasons. My best guess is that he did not want those first hard years of grappling with a cancer diagnosis and all the extreme treatments that followed to be part of our history. I get that.

One thing that I've learned as I have to sort through the remains of his life, is that I am able to pick and choose what I keep, what I give away and what I dispose of. It is not an easy process. 

When I was in high school there was a huge uproar over the teaching of a curriculum called "Values Clarification" that included role playing. Students decided who would  be rescued or cast off of a ship with only enough room for a limited number of passengers. Today, we would call that the current season of "Survivor". Sorting through the "stuff" that was a life feels very similar to me. I've been left to make the choice of "what matters most." We all want our lives to matter. We want our things to have value to others. We want to leave a legacy.

I no longer have a hole in my collection of 11 journals. I also have a new understanding of D wanting to erase those years in any way he could. And, I suppose, to take away the pain that was associated with them. But, honestly? As I reread the pages until late into last night I don't remember it as so awful. I know that those early procedures bought us almost 7 more years together. For that I'm very grateful. 

And I'm even more grateful for a husband who thought he could spare me painful memories by simply wrapping them up and tucking them away. And in a way, it worked. Because it reminds me to extract the precious from the worthless. To choose what is important. And to hide it away in my heart. Amen.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Life As a House

About 8 years ago, there was a movie out called "Life As a House." (I apologize ahead of time if you saw the R-rated theater version: I saw the sanitized-for-TV copy.) The plot revolved around a man who had made a mess of his life, leaving a son and ex-wife in the wake of its destruction. Upon receiving a terminal diagnosis, he decided to tear down the ramshackle house his father left him, and rebuild it with the help of his family. I'm sure you are following the metaphor of rebuilding the house here. Our homes and our lives are so completely intertwined.

I've thought a lot about the connection between home and life since I lost D. He did an amazing amount of custom woodwork on our home. There are a few projects he had planned that he was not able to finish. Some of the plans I retrieved from the trash can in his office. After his terminal diagnosis, he cleaned his desk off. I cannot even begin to imagine what it was like for him to literally throw some of his dreams away.  I've decided the best way to honor him, for now, is to have those projects completed. The biggest one is a set of oak bookcases on either side of the fireplace. The smaller ones include some woodwork around the windows, and some unfinished plant stands. But first? I have got to control the chaos of clutter that I have allowed to take over my home.

I was determined to finish cleaning out D's office today. I've decided to use it to house all the paperwork and bills, so I need to get it back in order. I spent most of the morning cleaning the wood floors and shelves, and began dusting the furniture from the legs up. I turned over a small side table D made years ago to remove some cobwebs and underneath the tabletop I found written: "Made for R by D with love in 2002". Well. Long cry followed by search of underside of all furniture in entire home. I didn't find any more inscriptions, but I found even more appreciation of how well his furniture pieces are made. This particular table was made at a workshop where he was taught wood construction using antique tools and no nails: only joinery. It is beautiful, classic and timeless.

I may have mentioned a time or twenty that D was somewhat of a perfectionist when it came to details. He was also very particular about his tools. Young Son told me recently when he was growing up and needed to borrow a screwdriver or something from D's tool table in the garage, he would stand there for long minutes memorizing the order of the various tools. He knew the borrowed item needed to be replaced in the exact location it had come from. To the inch.

I've looked at some of the unfinished projects and wondered it I could do some of the work myself. Then I am reminded of the "Big Book" holder D made for my classroom. I just wanted something slapped together from scrap wood. What I got is a book holder that my great, great grandchildren will be able to use should they decide to go into elementary education. I'm pretty sure that I cannot even begin to achieve that level of excellence in finishing his projects.

I'll find the right person (or persons) to help me finish these projects. I have D's carefully created CAD plans that should help guide my helpers to complete his work with his vision. And I'm hoping that the completion of these shelves, windows, frames, plant stands etc. will bring some finality to our house. And to life. A life that was lived with excellence.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Epidemic Apples

I work in an incubator that is know as "First Grade". In all my years of teaching, I've never seen so many flu-related absences and repeat absences in the first weeks of school. You may remember last spring, there was a school near my elementary that was closed down when "swine flu" (aka H1N1) was discovered. News crews reported many times a day on the risk of a full-blown epidemic. And then one day, it just all STOPPED. Like someone higher-up said, "No more reporting about it. No more talking about it. No more fanning the flame." The closed school quietly reopened, and, except for the field trip that my classroom had to miss because of the supposed threat of out-of-town-school-bus rides making us susceptible to said flu, things returned quickly to normal.

Fast forward to this fall. The students are exhibiting flu-like symptoms over and over. I had a student come to school yesterday (on his birthday) who asked to go home. You KNOW they are sick when they want to leave on their birthday and miss being King of the Class for a day. I saw on "World News Tonight" that the featured story involved a visit to the tent city erected outside of Dell Children's Hospital in my fair town of Austin. So many sick children they had to add more space inside huge tents. I heard from a mother who had visited Dell with two of her three sick with the flu, that it was very efficient, orderly and well run.

Still, not one will use the words "epidemic" or even "Gee, maybe we should pay attention to the unparalleled number of children missing multiple days of school with high fever this early in the school year..."  And then I got my own personal wake-up call.

This is my 21st year in the classroom. During my first two years, I was sick so many times I'd used up all my sick and personal days by Christmas. If there was a germ in my classroom, it promptly sought me out and zapped me good. But as time went on, my resistance to the germ warfare that is a classroom environment seemed to grow and grow. As the years went by, I actually go to use my personal days for things, well, personal. I was not just loading up on Kleenex and chicken noodle soup, while I recuperated on the couch noting that the plots on most soap operas have not changed since I last watched them in the 1980s. (Luke and Laura: just stop it.) I didn't seem to ever get sick anymore.

Until yesterday. I noticed my stomach felt funny and chalked it up to my first grade lunch time being 10:30 am, and by dinner there has been an almost 8 hour gap in eating. Then I started to feel achy. Again dismissed by the fact that I never sit down in my classroom and run marathon sprints of errands during my few and far between breaks. And then I felt hot. Oh, please, God: not hot flashes now.

To my credit, I visited the nurse's office twice during the school day to make sure I was not running a fever and taking a risk of infecting my little charges. What would keep me at school on a day where I did not feel 100%? Well, it goes by the marvelous name of "Johnny Appleseed's Birthday." You may live in a normal world. I live in a parallel universe where even the first day of fall can bring more happiness into a room then can be contained. And Johnny Appleseed's Birthday brought excitement without parallel. We had apples to peel on an antique machine that cored, peeled and cut at the same time. We could visit four centers where we would sing apple songs, decorate pictures of apples through the four season, make a time line of an apple tree and illustrate a magical poem about apples. There were apple books and apple "big" books to read, overhead projector stories to be labeled, and songs to sing with props. And the piece de resistance? We were going to get to watch a 1960's Disney video on Johnny Appleseed. Does life get any better than that? No, not if your teacher has to slink home and lay on a couch, while a substitute (who is clueless to the nuances of all things apple) takes over the room . (You can take a peek inside our magical classroom here. )

I made it through the day. We had a wonderful time. I left when the children did at 3:00 pm and went home to lay on my couch, where I watched the early news. (Too late for General Hospital.) And guess what? The allergy count on mold is off the charts. My old arch nemesis mold has returned to the central Texas region, hopefully for a very short visit. That explains the aches and pains and slight dizziness. That further explains why Advil sinus had me feeling human about 4 hours later. 

But  the ten hour sleep I had last night? That could be due, just a little, to the fact that my 19 six-year-old best friends tire me out just a tad at times. But now I'm all geared up because Columbus Day and Halloween are on the horizon.

Let the celebrations begin!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Jury Duty 2.0

So, I returned to Jury Selection yesterday. On the correct day, this time. Ahem.

This was my first summons, so I was pretty interested in the process. You show up and wait in a line for security. You pass security (hopefully) and wait in a line to enter the courtroom. You enter the courtroom and wait for the process to begin. I live in a suburb of Austin, so I am actually in a much smaller county. But, Hello! There must have been over 600 people in there. Sure enough, the first thing they do is dismiss anyone with a summons that is over the number 600. Drat. My number is in the 300s. The bad news for them? They do not get their $6 cash for serving.

Next, they release everyone who has Extenuating Circumstances or who has committed a crime. The crowd continues to thin. Then the judge asks for those who would suffer a hardship for serving to raise their hands. My GriefShare leader has told me I have enough on my plate emotionally, and recent loss of spouse would constitute a hardship. 52 of us are dismissed, but we are handed $6 cash for surviving the first cut. It is 11:00 a.m., and now officially too late to return to my classroom to even serve half of a day.

My first grade class eats lunch at 10:30 a.m., so  I am already feeling pretty hungry. I take my money and head across the street for the gingerbread pancakes I missed last week. And then I head home for a nap, because I am feeling unusually exhausted. I slept hard for about 2 hours, and there may or may not have been a little drool on the corner of my mouth from my carb-induced deep sleep. And now there are some chores I have to complete.

Cancel D's AAA membership. Order the new front door. Shop for the new chair and ottoman that will replace D's lift chair in the den. Buy boxes to ship pictures and mementos to D's siblings and daughters. Will even a simple to-do list ever return to just normal activities and not be so emotionally exhausting? Jury is out on that one. (And have I mentioned I'm not on the jury this time?) Go to bed tired. Even after that long nap.

But today? It is the first day of autumn and it actually feels like it in central Texas! 66 degrees after a summer of 100+ degree days feels like a blue norther blew in. My first graders have brought in all manner of things that represent fall for our "Fall Museum". They are also bringing in apples because we'll be celebrating Johnny Appleseed's birthday on Friday. A student's mom has sent organic apple juice for the class to enjoy. We drink it while we make fall leaves out of coffee filters for the class tree. Life is definitely good in the first grade.

And would you like a tip for how your life could be good? Blue Bell's new "Groom's Cake" ice cream. You're welcome.

Happy Fall, Y'all.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

My Goal For This Weekend

Matthew 11:28-30 (The Message)

"Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to Me. Get away with Me and you'll recover your life. I'll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with Me and work with Me - watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won't lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with Me and you'll learn to live freely and lightly."

Lord, let it be.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Life is a House

There are people from my church who are doing prep work on my house to get it ready to be painted. My part of the job (besides being blessed), is to choose paint colors.

Last May, D and I had picked out paint colors and a new front door at Lowe's. We always loved puttering around at that store and making grand plans for our home. D was not a Home Depot man, and it was a happy day when his favorite home improvement store opened right across the highway from the Depot. I think he may have looked toward the orange sign and gloated a little. We spent a lot of happy time under the blue Lowe's sign. The color D wanted to paint the new front door? Red. RED? I got on board, but life came at us quickly this summer, and the purchase was not made.

Fast forward to this week and I'm back at Lowe's looking at the same door and the same paint aisle. And I'm doing the ugly cry. Right there in public. You really never know where grief will come knocking. Moments earlier I was as sane as could be, but the sight of the red door on aisle 12 just took the wind out of me. And I exited the building. Quickly.

Last night, my loyal friend and former college roommate, MA, accompanied me back to Lowe's to finish the purchase. She has a degree in interior design, so she has a great color sense. And she's been my friend for 34 years, so she knows how to help me through the valleys filled with shadows in life.

We picked the same door and a red paint that D would have loved. We picked the paint and trim color that is sure to make the house "pop", in the HGTV vernacular. She even helped me chose an area rug for D's office. The hardwood floors are a little worn from all the years of the walker scratching over it. His office is the first room I really want to fix up. He converted it into a wonderfully peaceful room that is full of oak woodwork and his favorite books.

When we found out D only had a few months to live, he began giving me advice for the future. He asked me to not make any decisions for a year. I'm sure I've mentioned that a time or twenty, because I think about it often. My first big decision at the end of this time period is: do I keep the big house I'm rambling around in, or do I downsize to something smaller? At this point, I am not actually sure what I will do next year. But for now? I want to finish all the projects D was not able to finish. It's just what I need to do.

So, if you are driving down my street in the next month or so, it should be easy to find my house. It will be the one that has been lovingly painted by members of my church, with colors that "pop". It will have a beautiful red front door. And there will be works in progress inside that are helping me fill in some gaps in this journey of life. And I hope that the same thing will be happening in my heart.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Didn't Get Picked For Jury Duty

A friend recently sent me this link. It is by a teacher who recommends that all teachers blog. He contends that a blog will teach us what we think. I so get that. To sit down and type out a stream-of-consciousness series of thoughts about the day captures exactly what I am really feeling. A blog is not some carefully polished facade that would crumble under thoughtful inspection. These mundane musings? They are about as real as I can get.

With that in mind, I'd like to share my experience with jury duty on Monday. I can almost hear the clicks of the cursors as you escape to a more interesting bloggy destination.

I got up at my usually early time on Monday, made coffee, read the paper, had my quiet time and did my GriefShare daily assignment. Nothing out of the ordinary there. Decided to get to the town where my jury takes place early enough that I could have breakfast out. (Hello, Monument Cafe with your gingerbread pancakes and peppered bacon!) When I got in the car I glanced at the printed Summons, and realized I did not have to be there until 9 am, not 8 am as I had thought. Hmmm. No problem: more time for a few more cups of coffee. I can be flexible like that.

I drove 15 miles north to the parking lot of said restaurant, conveniently located by the courthouse,  and decided I better look at that Summons one more time to make sure there were no more surprises. 9am: check. Monday: check. September 21...and then a gnawing moment of panic began to wash over me. Hmmm. Today was September 14. I was exactly a week early, and there was not a substitute teacher waiting in my first grade classroom 30 miles south of where my body now resided. That sub was scheduled for September 21. WHICH WAS NOT TODAY.

Traffic, of course, picks up as the time gets later in the morning. I headed south as quickly as possible knowing the first bell would ring at 7:35 am and someone needed to be there to unlock the door to welcome by 19 six-year-old best friends. My calls to the front office and staff were answered by machines promising to "get right back to me." Drat. Called another teacher who was also stuck in traffic, but a few exits ahead of me. She promised to find someone to mind the store until I got there.

I was only about 5 minutes late, with a racing heart and a head full of total disorientation because I was not prepared mentally for a day in the classroom. (Physically I was more than fine, because I always leave extremely detailed substitute plans and materials. Except there was no sub this Monday. Ahem.)

Deep breath. Big smile. Dismiss slightly disappointed student teachers who were filling in for me and hoping for a little more time of being in charge of a Real Classroom. And we're off! The beginning of the day is always like being shot out of a cannon. You work all day without nets (except those wonderful substitute plans I had prepared in more detail than necessary). And when I turned around? The final bell of the day was ringing. And I was more than ready to go home and rest up.

For jury duty next Monday.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Reaping and Sowing

Yesterday I had Grand Plans to get a lot done on a Saturday with nothing on the schedule. The first Saturday with nothing I had to do in 2 months. There is something in me that wants to sort and clean and organize and make sense of my life and my home. (And find out how many "ands" I can put in one sentence, apparently.)

 Five hours into my day, I realized I had only gone through one drawer. It was full of cards and letters that D had saved that must have been special to him. There were cards from all four children. A homemade card from a former first grade student of mine who hoped he felt better after his "operashun". Piles of cards from D's sister. And every card I had ever given him. 

I loved reading through my old cards, and being encouraged by the amount of hope God granted us even during the darkest twists and turns in our long journey with cancer. The cards I'd sent are somewhat of a timeline of operations, procedures and tests taken along the way. 

This one from a Valentine's Day that fell after an amputation but before the (then unknown) brain tumor operation: "Wow. This has been quite a journey, hasn't it? Through it all, God has been so merciful and faithful to us. The grace and provision He has granted us were certainly much more than we deserve, and for that I'm forever grateful. Read Psalm 126. Verses 1-3 are about what God did as a blessing the past. Verses 4-6 are for the blessings to come. We are standing right in between those places, waiting (patiently, I hope) for God's next move on our lives. You walking and working again. A future and a hope that is still ours. I can't wait. If I had it to do all over again, of course I would if I knew it would bring me to this same place with you."

At the time I wrote that card, I was doing Beth Moore's Bible Study "Stepping Up". It deals with the Psalms of Ascent: or the songs the faithful sang as they were on a pilgrimage to the Holy City. The Psalm I referenced in the card contains one of my favorite promises: "Those who sow in tears will reap with joyful shouting." 

Sowing in tears. Reaping with joy. A continual cycle in the seasons of our lives. And as autumn begins to creep into central Texas, I feel some unexpectedly cool breezes blowing. They hold a lot of hope for a relief to the record heat of summer. This has always been my favorite season. And I'm looking forward to reaping joy in the days, months and years ahead.

The house did not get clean yesterday. But my soul? That part of me that contains my mind, will and emotions? It was cleaned and refreshed through good memories and the faithfulness of promises kept. Knowing that the worst can come to pass, but there is still the promise of good things ahead.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

And Now For Something Completely Different

I live in a suburb of Austin, Texas: a city which prides itself in being different. It's unofficial motto is "Keep Austin Weird". I'd like to share just a few options for entertainment I found in today's Saturday edition of the Austin American Statesman to support this unusual view of life in central Texas:
  • The Paramount Theater downtown is hosting this season's final classic film by showing "Lawrence of Arabia" with a Closing Party that will include "live camels under the marquee, original film costumes, belly dancers and drinks." All of this will take place on Congress Avenue just blocks from our state capital.
  • Forklift Danceworks presents "The Trash Project: An Evening of Dance" performed by the employees and machinery of Austin's solid waste service department. This is held at Austin Studios and will employ 16 garbage trucks and 25 city workers for a "large-scale dance celebration of physical labor." There will be an original score playing - some of which will be performed live by a string trio- that incorporates noises made by trash trucks and machinery.
  • Kids Day Out : A Global Art Initiative will have children decorate metal crutches to be sent to children around the world to provide "artistic mobility to handicapped residents of Third World Countries".
  • A CD release party for a band that mixes "earthy psych rock, early 70s Motown and Latin funk until you can't tell the difference."
  • "Gone to the Dogs": A tribute to dogs in a vaudeville-style variety act.
  • "The Head, Hands and Toe Mambo Show": An assortment of mime vignettes set to mambo music.
  • The Texas Bamboo Society will be meeting to discuss grooming bamboo; the Community Garden Club will be discussing "Cacti, Succulents and Desert Gardens".
  • A list of upcoming sales: City Wide Garage Sale, Blue Genie Art Bazaar, Armadillo Christmas Bazaar and Keep Austin Bizarre Bazaar.
  • A request for a source for "a painting of Willie Nelson on velvet, showing his braids and bandanas."
I know even now you are reaching for your phone to list your house for sale so that you, too, may relocate to a place where different is never considered different enough.

This all caught my eye  because I've been thinking a lot about being different lately. I have been meditating on the verse in Galations 2:20 that says "I have been crucified with Christ: it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and delivered Himself up for me."

It is about living differently. About living a life that honors God and is all about what He wants, and not what I want. I've been struck by how hard it would be to walk the present path I am on after the loss of my husband if God's hand was not solidly holding mine. I've considered where my life would be right now if I hadn't decided about 35 years ago to seek God's plan for my life. Think of that: those years spent being led by God, or those same years being led by my earthly desires. I can only imagine the different location I'd be in right now but for God.

And those differences a loving and compassionate God has made in my life? Well, they are certainly more significant than being involved with mambo dancing mimes or choreographed garbage truck performances. 

Keeping the main thing the main thing? That is what will make the difference in this life.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Let It Be

Today, I had to take a half day off school for a dentist's appointment. It was the only way to get one during the month of September. There was a little pain going on in the mouth and the appointment girl called "stat". Lean in and I'll tell you a little secret.

I had not been to the dentist since D got sick. Somehow his medical needs were so pressing, my preventatives did not make the list.

In my defense, I never had so much as a cavity until I was in my forties. And that first and only cavity? She was a doozie. Required a root canal and a crown. Made me thankful for the good teeth genes of all my Swedish relatives. Because that drill? Not welcome in this mouth.

Anyhoo, I was really dreading this visit. I was convinced that Something Big Was Wrong with my teeth. This is very unusual for me. I usually live in a land called Fine, Fine, Everything is FINE! and worrying is not on my daily to-do list.

The dental assistant began our visit by taking my blood pressure with an automatic cuff.  And, my usually low BP was marginally high. Next, she turned on a lap top screen positioned in front of my face to show the digital x-rays she was taking. 18 digital shots later, and my entire mouth was on display, tooth by tooth. When did all this dental innovation take place? Oh, that's right: during my five year absence from my dentist's office.

The dentist came in to view the digital images on the screen. (Remember when we used to say view the films? That is so five years ago, apparently.) And I felt myself  duck and cover for his bad news: My teeth...need to be...cleaned. CLEANED? That's all?

As I uncurled from my fetal position in the chair, I realized there was not the tiniest shred of my being or mouth that expected good news today. In fact, I was apparently anticipating dental holocaust.  And I was surprised by joy in the form of no drills, no dental intervention and no more interruptions to my school schedule. (Except that I was called up for jury duty for the first time in my life for Monday. But that is another blog.)

Resolved: to actively start looking for good things to happen. 

Like the Beatles to re-release a digital version of their originally recorded songs remastered. For stores to actually stock enough of these CDs so that there is not a run on them. Or for Yoko to admit she was part of the problem.

Re-Resolve: to actively start looking for realistic good things to happen.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Chipping Away to Create Something New

Today my friend told me she and her computer-savvy husband had finished "blasting" D's laptop. It's cleaned and ready to pass on to Young Son, whose laptop crashed. College classes wait for no one. He was in need of a new computer, and there was one laying unused next to D's also unused lift chair in the living room. Of course I am  glad to pass it on to someone who needs it. (Especially if it helps him finish college THIS year...) But it also represents one more part of D that just disappeared.

Another part that is soon to be gone? The "land line" phone in our house with his voice on the answering machine. "We're unable to come to the phone right now, but if you'll leave a message after the beep, we'll get back to you as soon as possible." I can't tell you how often I've listened to his voice deliver that message. But I'm slowly admitting that no one really calls the home phone anymore except the automated clothing donation messages. I get 99.9% of my calls on my cell, and I know it is time to let the home phone go. Yet another small piece of D disappearing. It is painful.

The GriefShare DVD said that we should just "lean into" our pain as we experience it. That would be fine if it ever came at an appropriate time. Should I have "leaned" into it when it hit while looking at antiques with my sister on Saturday? Or how about when I felt overwhelmed shopping at the new organic grocery store that D was so looking forward to having in our neighborhood? I am just not good at sharing My Crazy in the company of strangers. So usually I just keep it stuffed in and carry it home to "lean" into it.

The good news? I never feel a need to "lean" while I'm in my classroom. It's almost like being in the middle of 19 frisky puppies rolling all over each other. What is not to love about all that life in one space? School is my happy place, and these students are the best therapy possible. I'm not even sure if my students' parents know my story, so they see me as mostly normal. Hopefully.

I'm trying to go through some of D's things. I had determined I'd use my Labor Day off from school to start sorting through some paperwork and finances. About an hour into the process, I was so exhausted I needed a nap. At 9 a.m. Things are moving slowly. Apparently, I'm not "leaning" into those little chores either.

As things disappear around me, I'm reminded of The Truth: "We look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporal. But the things which are not seen are eternal." (II Cor. 4:18)

I'm not just leaning on that promise. I'm standing firmly. And believing  as old things pass away, that all things will become new.

Sunday, September 6, 2009


About a week ago I received an email from a minister at our church asking me to contact him. We played phone, Facebook and email tag for almost a week before we connected. He said that there was a group of men who wanted a service project and was I willing to let them paint my house for me? Well, in a word: YES. There are so many projects that never made the short, long or any list at our home during D's illness, and the members of our church have been so faithful to step up and help before we even asked.

I told this minister that D had told me I needed to get the house painted after he was gone in case I decided to sell it. The minister's email reply was,"Don’t start crying, but D actually brought up this idea, he was always thinking about you. It is a blessing to me to honor his request."

That "don't start crying" part? Too late. I was touched on so many levels: that D thought to take care of this, that our minister was following up on it and that these men feel it is a "blessing" to help me. In their "spare" time. They would also take care of that tree that fell in my back yard last week.

Later that night two former teaching colleagues took me out to eat. In the course of our conversations, one friend told me that she was  a sponsor for a trip the high school choir would be taking to New York in the spring, and that I should think about being a sponsor as well. Several of the teenagers  signed up for this trip were former students of mine during their elementary years. A quick call to the choir director, and I was on my way to New York City in April. A city that has been a desire of my heart.

This weekend? Full of even more such unexpected blessings. Teacher Happy Hour Friday night, and even though I only had water with lemon? I was still pretty happy. A trip to Wimberly Trade Days with my sister on Saturday, followed by a cookout  hosted by my brother-in-law. Brunch with a special friend today before a showing of "Gone With the Wind" at a vintage downtown theater. Tomorrow? An invitation by Young Son and his girlfriend to a meal of homemade seafood gumbo. Score!

I feel surrounded by the love of my friends and family. I've decided my answer of choice to the question, "What can I do for you?" is "Take me out to the ballgame...or movie, or dinner, or lunch or...." I know how busy everyone is these days.

 But the gift of companionship? It's free. But priceless. 

Thursday, September 3, 2009

How I Met Your Mother

A lifetime ago when first husband left us, I was encouraged to attend a "Divorce Recovery" class at a church in a nearby town. What did I have to recover from? Well, let us begin that long list with "anger toward men who left".

I remember sitting in my first meeting and looking at the floor, not wanting to make eye contact. I amused myself by looking at the sad shape of the shoes  men in the class wore. I'd go down the row and make snarky remarks in my head: "That guy looks like he mowed the grass in those shoes." "He is a GROWN MAN: why does he have shoes with velcro closures?" "When will the holes in the toes of those tennis shoes render them unusable?" You get my drift. Apparently, my anger might have temporarily been toward, I don't know: all men. Or maybe men who were unable to take care of their own shoes when their wife was gone.

After several weeks of meeting, I was doing my usual pre-class shoe inventory when my eyes were amazed at some highly polished loafers and quality patterned socks. I noticed there was a pressed crease in the khaki cuff that rested on the shoes. Now, here, I thought, was a man who knew how to take care of himself. Unlike his seatmate, Velcro Shoe Guy.

And who do you supposed those well cared for shoes belonged to? My future husband, D.

 Ladies, you may notice the face or the eyes first. I was apparently a shoe woman. And the rest, as they say, is history.

I told this story to a close friend recently and she swore she had never heard it before. I guess it is because we never really broadcast the fact that we met in a Divorce Recovery class. After all, that is not the most healthy place to meet a mate. That and the fact that dating was not allowed. So we just quit the class to start seeing each other. Apparently worked for us.

Years pass, circumstances  occur, and I began my first Grief Share class tonight. It is in the same church in the same nearby town. To my utter disbelief, it is  also held in the same room as the Divorce Recovery class.  Drat. I was crying before I even entered. 

I know I will benefit from this group, but it feels strange to be there. I'm the youngest member and the most recently widowed. But I guess grief is grief and does not discriminate against age or timeline. I wonder what my life will look like when the class ends in 13 weeks? 

One of the most encouraging tidbits offered tonight? Journaling your way through grief is proven to be one of the most effective ways to process and work through it. Looks like I may have a head start there through this blog. Fingers crossed.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Moving On

Well, bloggy friends, you may have noticed that my posts are a little fewer and farther between then they were this summer. The reason? I have entered the tunnel that is known as The School Year, and I will not emerge until early next June, blinking in the summer sun. I have said good-bye to closets, storage sheds and the garage that did not get cleaned this summer. I'll see them all next summer. Maybe.

Through the magic that is the Wonderful World of First Grade, I almost feel normal during the school days. During the seven school years that encompassed D's illness, I found if I could just get to school and close the door against the world, I was in a safe harbor. How could I not be happy reading about Lilly and her purple plastic purse to a roomful of rapt six year olds? Time spent among students who think I invented wonders like Silly Putty and Playdoh.

But outside of that classroom cocoon? I find, among other things, I'm suffering an identity crisis. My husband was 11 years older than I was, and that never seemed like a problem before. But since I lost D, I just feel so old. I find myself scanning a room full of people and trying to locate one that is about my age. I know that I am choosing senior citizens as my match. To quote Garth Brooks in a PC way, "I'm much to young to feel this darn old."

I find that some of the best advice for passage during this era of life comes from from the most unexpected places. Like the lady across the street who was holding a garage sale. All I wanted was to buy a geode collection for my science unit on rocks and minerals. Turns out she had lost her husband years ago to cancer. The difference was that she had three small children. I cannot even imagine trying to navigate this fog with tiny tots along for the journey. She somewhat bluntly told me, "You can choose an addiction like alcohol or drugs to dull your pain," (hadn't considered those), "but you've got to choose: do you want to be 3 months healed or 3 months deeper into an addiction that covers up what you will have to eventually deal with?" She suggested a grief support group with people close to my age who had lost spouses. Chronological age; not grief-induced age.

So, I asked around and found such a class. It meets at a church in a nearby town on Thursday evenings. I've signed up and will start this week. I know it is a good choice. I just so don't want to attend. It makes all of this real. And it means I will have to look at it all very closely. And once I pull it out and look at it? I don't think it will fit back inside of me. Can't even hold on to the grief forever. Feels like more loss at this point.

But may I quote Garth again?

How could I have known you'd ever say goodbye? 
And now I'm glad I didn't know 
The way it all would end the way it all would go 
Our lives are better left to chance
 I could have missed the pain 
But I'd of had to miss the dance