Love and Remembrance

Tomorrow is the fourth anniversary of my husband’s death. I celebrate Love and loss and grief and gratitude. We had rented a funky house that became an unlikely temple as Richard’s death journey proceeded to his final breath. Our former home had been packed up and sold. The lease on the rental was up just a few months after his memorial, so my daughter and son-in-law quickly and efficiently helped me secure a place to live in Kendal at Oberlin, a wonderful continuing care retirement facility near their own new home. There was a final flurry of marking boxes for storage, auction, and “Bring to Ohio”. I know for sure one box I had meant to keep was lost in the shuffle of that final push, and it surprises me when something I did not know I had saved turns up at random moments in my room. Opening up some documents I needed for bringing my old will up to date in Ohio with a new lawyer, a paper slipped out onto the floor.

It was a lovely handwritten note from a couple who had stayed at the Hope Lodge in Manhattan at the same time as Richard did, accompanied by his childhood friend, Cliff. Hope Lodges are well set up free accommodations for those out-of-town patients undergoing cancer treatments in various cities. Richard was heading into his final stage of preparing to receive stem cells for his small B cell Lymphoma.

He knew it would be the hardest part of his treatment yet. After the fact, his main oncologist said, “Yes, we bring you as close to death as possible before implanting the stem cells.” Although Richard seemed remarkably well after the many months of basic chemo and radiation, this powerful next step was intended to kill all of his bone marrow, hopefully to be replaced by growing his own brand-new cancer free cells. He would be like a newborn infant with no immunity. As I was unable to be with him because of my own weakened state of health, Cliff decided he would fly out from his home in California to escort Richard to and from Manhattan and stay at the Lodge and support him for the time it would take to complete the grueling process.

As Cliff remembers, “It was a very tender time.” This is the note I discovered just two days ago.

Dear Judi and girls,

My name is—. My husband is —-. We met Richard at Hope Lodge this past year.  My husband was battling cancer, too.

            We both want you to know what an impact Richard had on us. In the kitchen at Hope Lodge we would sit with Richard and Cliff, sometimes talking, sometimes quiet. Richard’s mere presence conveyed compassion, humility, and strength. He shared his love for his family, his beautiful home and his horses.

            To observe the friendship that he and Cliff shared was also very moving. What a beautiful gift they shared for all these years.

            We pray that you are staying strong. Know that you and your daughters are in our prayers. Also know that we are so grateful to have crossed paths with Richard and therefore you. The fond memories of him will stay in our hearts forever.

                                                                        Sincerely, ———-

I am grateful for the reappearance/synchronicity of that heartful message. Happy Day to honor Love.

My techie friend did indeed show me how to plug in a recording of a song I wrote on this blog. I put the lyrics in a former blog, titled, “Back again” on November 6th My thanks to Robin for this. It is a very rough recording of, Find Your Way, Children, Children. I’ll keep at this to do cleaner versions of some songs as I go. Love, joy, thanks and peace to you.

The Trip Not Taken

Diary 9/12/21                                 

On September 13th 2001, my husband and I planned to leave for our meticulously planned two-week trip to Tuscany. It had been a delightful destination for him when he had gone years before with a male friend of ours. It had seemed the perfect place to celebrate my fiftieth birthday. We had to plan meticulously because although I was more mobile with my MS compromises twenty years ago, I still would have required a wheelchair for lengthy walking. And a wheelchair meant not having to traverse too many quaint cobblestone streets which meant a careful itinerary to share with me at least a few of his favorite locations and some brand-new ones. We found online international support for free wheelchairs to use on arrival at the airport. The map of Italy we had folded and unfolded to travel each road with our fingers was left worn and tattered during the months before the much-anticipated event.

September 11th. All flights were cancelled. Our friends in Europe, giving workshops or traveling, were frantic to come back home. Even if we had been able to fly out in in a few days’ time, it would have cut enough into our already short vacation time to render it moot. Every single Italian host and hostess in every venue refunded all of our deposits. There was a warm swathe of caring for Americans during this tragedy. They did not forget how many Americans had supported them and died during the war.

Besides, Richard and I both had psychotherapy clients directly and indirectly affected by this event. Calls started coming in over the next few weeks to begin coping with the unimaginable. Because Richard also had a Manhattan practice as well as the one we shared in upstate New York, a flood of new referrals kept calling him. Anxiety, despair, depression, grief, illness, rage, and PTSD all required his care. What was the loss of a balloon ride over vineyards and olive orchards landing in a field with a champagne breakfast compared to the losses endured in this deliberately public act of mass slaughter?

My father died in a car accident seventy years ago on the eleventh of September. I was born eleven days after he died with over one hundred bones broken in his body. My personal history of loss resurfaced for a while in the aftermath. Grief was heavy in the air along with the fumes of a desire for vengeance, a justifiable retaliation for The Enemy. The chaos of that time bleeds into the current situation of ever more catastrophic losses. Biden has touted the unity of our nation after 9/11. But the widely differing seeds of action to address terrorism were already there. The “patriotic” call for hate and violence vs. the call for genuine national/international political self-reflection for viable boundaries and repair was simmering. It boiled over into an ongoing largely fruitless war which further mucked up our image on the world stage. The long war cost the lives of many more thousands of civilians “over there” as well as leaving thousands of our own soldiers dead or maimed for life.

Those same divisions in the need for action now show up in our ‘war’ against each other with the foe being a deadly virus. Who do we hate, who do we blame, to whom do we deny any impulse of understanding, who do we manipulate into being an ally made in our image? How do we grab what we can while we can? How do we manage our own affairs, dire as they are? There are no easy, no quick, answers.

I do have faith that there is an order in the universe. Much of the time, I am as blind and wounded and overwhelmed as anyone in knowing where that coherence may be found. During the planetary chaos we are creating, it is only clear that each of us must find a center we can trust, hold to and act from. Surrendering to that point of singularity, the still stable point of infinite potential within myself, within us all, is the most important journey there is for me. May we be guided by Love in action.

Though in retrospect, I must say that our envisioned trip to Tuscany was the best trip that I never took. Despite the terrible associations, I still remember it fondly.

Another Anniversary

8/8/21

This morning I woke up feeling inexplicably happy. I don’t believe that I’ve heard a recommended time limit for widows to stop memorializing their wedding anniversary. Our wedding itself I have described in an earlier anniversary blog. I clearly remember several other special anniversary celebrations – our fifteenth in the backyard of our home in Red Hook N.Y. was a particularly joyful one with our older daughter and her cousins dashing around, and the one where Richard and I renewed our vows to one another inside the circle of hemlock bushes that were barely knee high in back in 1970. When we held a private recommitment ceremony, climbing back up the familiar wooded hillside in Shady, NY, the hemlocks were towering over us in their frothy greenery. Our fortieth was when we introduced our new son-in-law to our friends who didn’t attend the Texas wedding….well, there were all the other parties and special dinners on this date in August. I was always sure we’d at least reach our sixtieth anniversary, given that we were so young when we were married.

And that was not to be. Today is what would have been our fifty-first anniversary. I look at Richard’s photo taken in his fifties on the summit of Mt. Blanc straddling France, Italy, and Switzerland and I summon his visceral warmth through seeing his intensely present gaze. Dutch friends of ours had invited us to stay with them in their vacation home in France to celebrate their twenty-fifth anniversary and this picture I have on my bedside table was snapped by our friend Daphne on a daytrip to the mountain overlooking the entire area. It was our last big vacation and a joyful occasion to celebrate relationships.

Today, I am reflecting on the nature of love. The intimate dance of a marriage over years of sincere hard work tracks the growth of us as individuals and how we nurtured both of us within the partnership. To have been schooled in that university with Richard was such a gift. We received from and gave to each another in equal measure. Our strengths and weaknesses became less and less the focus of how to love and be loved. We cultivated the belief that love between us could become less conditional based on our behaviors, and more of a constant anchor, a given mutual well of sweet water always available to draw upon. As I was more and more challenged by my chronic declining health, we learned to navigate some rough roads. Parenting two very different daughters pulled us together as our priorities shifted as a family. When it was Richard who developed life threatening cancer, it was another huge lesson of how to stay in love, day to day, moment to moment, right up until his death.

During the periods of isolation during this pandemic, I am acutely aware of the loss of the deep and easy companionship that Richard and I had co-created. There is no one else in the world who can remember events and episodes the two of us shared over those many years. No one can ever walk with me again who could hold the depth of understanding of who and what I am becoming as I continue aging which he never will. No one else remembers our treasured private jokes and personal triumphs. I have dear old friends who knew Richard and me together from our early days, but theirs is still an outside perspective. Memories of that past life are now mine alone.

Today I am beginning to understand that the intimacy of love that I remember is still available to me. It Is not just based on shared life experiences. It is not just in relationship with another single human being, but within the single human being that I am. When I summon the love that I felt for and from Richard, it sets up a resonance within my body/mind/spirit. I had such very good training in the best of conditional human love, that exploring unconditional love leads me on, and takes my hand, my mind, and my breath away. I find that this love is not as confined nor is it dependent on anything or anyone else. It is often unnamed, simply showing up inside my room this morning or when I was outside looking at one of Kendal’s many ponds smelling so sweet after a rain-washed night. It is in my ninety-eight-year-old neighbor’s struggle to rise up out of her chair, the high school aged dining servers bringing me my dinner tray as we once again are unable to dine with others during the latest shutdown. Love is in the faces of the overworked short-staffed nurses as they are back to COVID testing us twice a week among all of their many other duties. We are united in love by hoping that no one else at Kendal tests positive. Love is listening to sad news reports as I sip my morning tea. Love is when I am wide open to living fully all that life entails.

Third Death Anniversary

Third Anniversary of Your Death- 2/14/21

Today our two daughters and I

will lift our ice cream spoons to you

on zoom.





You loved ice cream since we first met.

As teenagers, we broke our meager banks

to eat the best ice cream that we could find.





Your favorite flavor always?

Mint chocolate chip.

When we were vegans

coconut milk ice cream would do

but frozen dairy delight was still the best.





In later years, now mostly vegetarians,

you discovered the perfect gelato-

sharp creamy mint studded with

a galaxy of tiny chocolate chips.





Three days before you died

you had an unconscious undressed rehearsal

with spiked fever, and labored breathing.





I was telling our next shift helper

how you had emerged from the danger zone.

You said, quite clearly, with humor in your voice,

“Is there an ice cream zone?”

Of course, there was and

one of the last foods you ate.





At your memorial service we served

hundreds of people ice cream and sorbet.





Today we remember your sweet love

your galaxy of human gifts

melting ever deeper into our hearts.

Intermingling grief and nostalgia catch me unawares. The sound of the snowplow outside of my room at Kendal brought tears to my eyes last week. For years and years every winter, you listened to the all-weather radio station eventually spoken by a stilted digital voice. Expertly plowing the driveway, and in some years, the entire dirt road we shared with our neighbors, was a point of pride and hard work. Our therapy clients made it safely to our house, the next day’s freezing rain hit dirt, not compacted snow, and your damp padded jumpsuit hung out to dry over the closet door, revealing the neatly dressed professional beneath ready for very different work after downing a cup of hot coffee.

Maybe it’s the glance at your picture sitting on my night table- the one that our Dutch friend took of you standing on Mt. Blanc when we visited her and her husband for their twenty-fifth anniversary. Your warm eyes look directly into mine. The half-smile is enough to send shivers of physical loss inside my heart. Empathy, clarity, and fiercely loyal dedication to all you encountered shines through the glass frame. Above that, are all of the early photos of our baby grandson who you had not met in this life. I look at his little round face and sparkling eyes, and I cannot help but see you as well. There is surely a through-line there and I don’t mean just DNA.

Other times I am reluctant to use the last of the dental floss that came in a box of a million (OK maybe only 25) that you had ordered before you died. Or sitting on the chairs in my room that once were in your Manhattan office, I wonder, “Was this the client’s chair or yours?”  I think maybe I should be able to tell the difference, to feel the hours of loving counsel you gave to so many others besides your family.

You are everywhere- in a song, a meal, a landscape, a breath- in the absolute stillness when I meditate; the tangible empty solidity of creation holds us closer than close.

The poet Hafiz has a line in one of his poems: “Love is simply creation’s greatest joy.”

A Stream Part 2 August 8th 2020

I was not yet seventeen when I first met Richard in 1968 at Emerson college in Boston. Our first summer together we spent hours by the Sawkill, enjoying the secluded chamber concerts of Water Music. It was a perfect spot for romantic trysts. Rocks were moved, dams were built, and the fascination of channeling insistently moving water remained as engaging as I remembered it from my childhood. Later, he had permission to pitch a tent in the small woods and the Sawkill became his gurgling tentmate, until the constant rains later that season caused mold to sprout on everything he owned. He abandoned camp and joined me in my mother’s cabin studio, working as a carpenter by day.

When Richard and I married, visiting my family in the summers also meant spending time by the stream. We would bring our friends with us and there are photographs of all of our young wet glistening bodies as together we created the best swimming hole ever. Years later, when we bought an old farmhouse across the Hudson River from Woodstock, we brought our two daughters to the stream. By then my mother and her sister had inherited the Shady house. Squeals of delight resounded up and down the Sawkill as the girls and their friends enjoyed the delights of cold water on hot summer days. More toes were nibbled, more Indian paint applied, more efts were found and released, and the next generation absorbed the pleasures of a wild Catskill mountain stream.

Over time, it was not only the stream bed that changed. The small Shady house was sold a few years after my mother died. It was a hard loss for me and Richard. As a willing part time caretaker of my grandparents, he had often worked on the old cottage. More than the sadness of losing the house, was the stinging loss of free access to the stream that held so many sweet memories of our lives together and joyful periods of my childhood and that of our daughters.

The last twenty-five years of our marriage were spent on sixty acres that Richard and I bought in Bearsville, another hamlet of Woodstock. The only thing I truly desired when we searched for a suitable place to build a home, was that the land should have some kind of water on it. I don’t think I understood at the time just how deeply imprinted I was by the Sawkill, that it meant Home to me.

Our Bearsville property fit my ideal beautifully. Sourced above our land on the shoulder of John’s Mountain, was a small seasonal creek locally named Bearpaw Creek. There was a broad forty-foot wide shale cliff maybe twenty feet high over which the creek poured down, creating a two-pronged waterfall. During the spring and fall rains, water gushed with impressive force and in the dry summer, trickles would meander under the rocks and sink into the streambed only to reappear near springs that dripped along green beards of moss hanging from the cliff face. Winter temperatures froze all action and covered the cliff with solid ice curtains of rippling blue, glinting in the sun.

When Richard was diagnosed with cancer in October of 2016 and we understood how ill he was, we sold our sheep and horses and fostered our last dog to dear friends. We put our mountaintop home up for sale and rented a house closer to the flatlands of the village of Woodstock as more accessible to caring friends and family. In fact, the house stood just off the small country highway a few miles from my grandparents’ Shady home. Though it was not visible from this rental, that last fall of Richard’s life we took comfort in listening to the Sawkill from across the road. A quarter mile away was the Bearsville Post Office where we got our mail. There it was again, across the road, rushing impetuously under a bridge on its’ way to Woodstock.

When asked, Richard said he had no opinion about where he wanted his ashes to go after his death. “It is for you to care about, my love, as it will not matter to me.” That striking moment when my daughters and I finally held a box of dusty human remains, Richard’s remains, we gave some to his two brothers and saved a pinch for undecided future destinations. The majority we took to a low spot off the road, on the border between Bearsville and Shady. The Sawkill lay broad and flat there, and we found it an easy walk along a shallow bank to a rock extending into the main current of the stream. We three bent down together, saying part of a poem I had written, and Richard had once recorded, which we had played at his memorial. Half laughing and half crying good-bye, we tumbled the sterile crumbling dust out into the cold water for his final earthly trip down the Sawkill to the sea.

A Stream

August 8th marks my would-have-been fiftieth wedding anniversary. In September, Richard and I would have been partners for fifty-two years. A few weeks ago I began writing a much longer piece about the Sawkill stream as a piece of memoir for my own pleasure. I realized I wanted to submit it for Kendal’s magazine and so shortened it a great deal. It is still probably too long for the magazine, but I thought I would put it here in two parts.

The Sawkill

The Sawkill is a stream located in Ulster county in upstate N.Y. The banks of this stream hold the flow of my entire life before I moved to Kendal at Oberlin.

The Dutch settled the Hudson River Valley leaving behind many place names. Besides naming the Hudson River itself, countless streams and waterways flowing down the Catskill mountains often bore the suffix kill, the old Dutch name for all manner of waterbeds. The Sawkill is sourced from Echo Lake high in the Indian Head Wilderness between Overlook and Plattekillmountains. It tumbles through valleys right past Woodstock, N.Y, my hometown. It eventually flows into the Esopus river watershed and then feeds into the Hudson and on down past Manhattan into the Atlantic.

The near bank of the Sawkill was accessible to me through the field across from my grandparents’ cottage in a hamlet of Woodstock, appropriately called Shady. A mile or so up the road stood a large converted house that was the original sawmill, where a waterwheel powered the saw. A few fields up from my grandparents’ home stood a tumbled down barn- a former glass factory that used the cold waters of the stream to quench hot glass. My grandparents’ refurbished cottage was originally built to house a glass blower. My older brothers and I would meander among the tufts of grass and mounded dirt to discover glass tailings. I still have one of them, a lump of green glass sitting on my windowsill.

Getting to the stream was a trek for my little legs, crossing the country road with my grandmother, then through the field, into a strip of woods, and down the bank to reach the chilly waters. My grumbling grandfather would sometimes come with us to heave and lever boulders and rocks out of the way to make a swimming hole, bordered by a small dam. Every year the stream bed looked different due to the powerful spring snow melts that roared and boomed displacing everything in their path. Once my brothers and I were drawn to investigate such compelling intensity from a spot upstream from the sawmill house. My foot slipped down the bank and the fierce waters caught my leg. My brothers quickly yanked me back from certain doom. I pondered the stream’s dangerous nature as I squelched my way back to the safety of my grandparents.

The Sawkill was my best playmate when I was an older child and stayed overnight with my grandparents by myself. In the summer, I’d walk there carrying my grandmother’s smallest speckled blue roasting pan. The hot July smells of tiny alpine strawberries, the abundant daisies to make crowns for my head, or the sure sight of fairies flickering among the butterflies slowed my progress but eventually, the wet aroma of decaying woods and leaflitter led me sliding down the steep bank to my destination.

Once there, I shed my shoes and clothes to stand in my bathing suit up to my ankles in the cool water. I waited until curious minnows nibbled at my toes. Then I gathered my “Indian” painting rocks carried down to me from miles away. I’d search the stream bed for just the right ones. Depending on the minerals in each pebble, I could assemble a palette of whites shaded blue to green, or reds to purples, and ochres to oranges. I’d climb aboard the flattest boulder I could find and scrub the wet stones into a thick paste. First, I’d decorate my own body, face to toes, and then set about adorning the rock. When the colored mud became too dry and crackly on my skin, I’d slip under a convenient low rippling waterfall, watching the colors swirl away downstream. My rock canvases lasted forever- until the next rainstorm.

Because the far bank of the stream was at the bottom of a steep mountainside, there were no houses or any visible human activity. The Sawkill itself was below the level of the woods and fields so I felt entirely secure in my private amusements. I dried off sprawled on top of the hard, sunbaked stones and immersed my being with the sights, sounds, and smells of the stream life and woods all around. Then came the most daring moments of my day- to race against the ever moving waters alongside one bank, leaping and running as fast as I could from stone to stone, to small pebbly beach, to the next waiting rock, knowing all the while if I fell I would be scraped badly on the unforgiving rough surfaces, or worse, I could break a bone. It was exhilarating, even though the stream always won the race. I never did injure myself, and in those days, no one thought to stop me from spending hours there all by myself.

I searched high and low to find the perfect materials for my final project. With exquisite care, I’d arrange a clump of soil holding a tiny rooted tree seedling, tufts of three different kinds of moss, and small replicas of boulders and climbing rocks to line the bottom of the roasting pan. I added some stream water for pools. Overturning rock after rock in the shade I’d uncover an orange eft or salamander to become a tiny fiery dragon. Introducing him to his new home, I’d retrace my steps to my grandparents triumphantly holding my dragon in his new accommodations.

My grandmother came outside to admire him and his fantastic dwelling. Then she patiently explained that I just had time to return him to his own real home before it was time to wash up for dinner. Though I pouted and frowned, I knew this was coming. Not understanding what a salamander might eat, and unable to prevent his inevitable decline if I kept him even overnight, I brought him near enough to the stream at the edge of the woods to find his own way back. The elements of his would-be dwelling returned to the forest floor. The sun set early behind the high mountain and the Shady valley grew dim and cool at the end of my long summer day.

Valentine’s Day

I sang this song last night at our Song Swap gathering and had everyone join in the repeated chorus. It hit the right note amidst all the other love songs, silly and serious, that we vocalized together.

My February Song            1/22/20 Judi Bachrach

February is the month you had to leave me

When my heart is held within the hand of memories

Then March lions chase the cold

New lambs cry in the fold

Chorus:

Every year, Every year,

Every year creates new seasons for my life

April drenches me with pouring rain and sun

May flowers born of hope rise up in everyone

June, July and August

Summer blesses each of us

Chorus:

September burns to colors of the molting Earth

October catches leaves for her great rebirth

November calls me home,

giving thanks for everyone

Chorus:

December takes me into the darkest night

January starts a new year in returning light

February comes again,

with a day for love and then

Chorus:

And so it is the eve of February 14th and tomorrow is the anniversary of Richard’s death. I will go to my older daughter’s home with her husband and the baby to eat sushi and chocolate chip mint ice cream in his honor. We will communicate via cyberspace with my younger daughter and touch our hearts and minds together. Feels just right. Tonight I open to dreams all unknown, trusting in the love we share in or out of the body.

Anniversary

8/8/19

Our would-have-been-49th wedding anniversary is today.  I do not feel touched by sorrow but rather I am amazed to revisit that long ago memory from 1970. Those two young people (I was not yet nineteen, and Richard had just turned twenty) standing there in their modest hippie-ish finery, seem now so innocent and brazenly confident of their life course. We had been living together for two years, but the time had arrived to take the next step.

The ceremony took place outside in the woods at the home of my mother’s long time companion, with our families and friends gathered loosely inside a circle of newly planted hemlock trees. Our minister was my grandmother’s neighbor who lived just down the road from where we were to be wed. Reverend Adolphus Bryant, then in his 80’s, stoically climbed up the dirt path approaching the mountain plateau to officiate.

Given that he was a staunch Methodist, he and Richard and I had worked hard to create a ceremony that also wouldn’t offend Richard’s Jewish family. I believe the biggest concession was saying “according to the life of Christ” as opposed to, “in the name of Christ.” Truthfully, I think that my in-laws were simply relieved that we were no longer living together unlawfully, and that no unwanted babies had been an unfortunate result as of yet. 

It was a lovely August day in Woodstock, NY, and as field wildflowers offered little but Queen Ann’s Lace for picking, Richard and I reluctantly agreed that I would carry large daisies from the florist for the occasion. It took him longer than expected to fetch them on the morning of our marriage, and he was a tad later getting them to me and into his place further up the hill above the circle than anticipated. There were two glitches. First of all, the daisies were dyed lavender to match my handmade purple dotted Swiss white dress (how unnatural, those dyed flowers, and not what we asked for!), and secondly, Richard’s visual cue to descend to me was for everyone to be assembled inside the circle. Human beings acting as they do, a few people were not obedient to that request and hung around the outside instead. Richard waited. We all waited.

My mother, who was anxious and impulsive at the best of times, shouted up to him, “Richard, you can come down now!.” He never 100% forgave her for that embarrassing moment, but it did get things rolling after that. We finally stood side by side as two childhood friends sang Dona Nobis Pacem with my mother in a lovely round. Then we both proceeded to stand together in front of Adolphus. There is a great photo of us and everyone else looking very somber while the minister spoke, and a second one (the photographer friend of my brother’s being one of the un-circled participants), shows the two of us grinning widely at each other while the rest of the group was still looking soberly down in prayer.

It was a potluck reception, there against the stone wall beneath the trees, presented on a covered piece of plywood placed on top of two sawhorses. I had made a wedding cake out of  various cake pans from my other grandmother’s house who lived right across the small valley appropriately called, Shady. The cake was layered in a, um, charming, way, and decorated with blueberries and grapes. I remember little of the subsequent chatting and eating until it came time for my family and most of our friends to take out our many guitars and start singing songs, which of course you did in Woodstock, in the 1970’s.

Richard’s more traditional immediate family all attended this ceremony and his mom wore a Jackie Kennedy style navy blue sheath dress with smart white piping. I remember her sitting cross legged, on the arm of a chair, nodding and smiling at the young people, (well, my mother was included), all singing songs together. When we got around to singing some blues, up came the classic, “Cocaine, running all ‘round my brain.” I watched my dear mother-in-law’s smile fading to a slight frown as the lyrics of that chorus came by again. 

Somehow we all survived the event with lots of good will. Best of all, none of our elders twisted their ankles on the way up or down the hill. After a night of more singing and storytelling with our friends outdoors under the stars, we fell asleep in our sleeping bags, one by one. Lacking refrigeration, the next morning found us scooping out by hand, our favorite thoroughly melted ice creams that good friends had brought with them for the celebration. It was a sweet and sticky, spontaneous, dairy filled pre-breakfast. Rinsing off our hands in the pipe-fed spring at the base of the hill, we were further fortified by toast and eggs when my mother appeared to summon us all indoors. And that was our post wedding brunch. Richard and Judi were officially wed. 

The Daisy Masacree

Diary 6/1/19

It was a “massacree”, as Arlo Guthrie called it in his famous Thanksgiving Day talking blues song. This was a slaughter of the flowers in my tiny garden beneath one window. I heard this morning at breakfast that I was not the only one to have lost their plants. This doesn’t make me feel any better. Everybody’s gardening work was whipped down by an ill informed wielder of the weed whacker from the grounds staff. In my case, we are talking daisies and day lilies, quite common flowers, and considered weeds in some places. I chose them carefully from the plant sale precisely because they are hardy, and need little to no care. Their nature is to spread rampantly over the years and that was also my intent for their future.

To me, those plants represented hours of investment. I dreamed a small garden into a possibility by buying a few necessary tools and bringing over my hardy Swedish outdoor walker (Veloped) from Emilia’s house. This has large wheels designed to travel over grass and woodland paths. I purposefully strained my legs and back by getting the flower bed ready, transplanting the plants, watering them and keeping my eyes and heart on them many times a day. I got permission from the nurses to occasionally deactivate the alarm on a door leading outside that is meant to prevent wandering residents with memory issues from disappearing. It opens directly onto the outdoor cement patio where I store my Veloped and tools. It is only fifteen feet away, as the rollator rolls, from there to my patch of earth. I considered the subsequent stress on my body as “functional PT”. From this experiment, I learned that I would recover from each round of gardening in a couple of days. This is a positive new development in my reaction to inflammation.

The daisies were just starting to bloom: three, count them, three! were already open. I walked back across the hall from our breakfast eatery and my jaw literally dropped in shock to find them gone. I made fast tracks (for me) down the halls and round about outside to find the unwitting culprit and not in anger, but in sorrow, to let him know what he had inadvertently done. He was clearly ignorant of plants altogether to not have noticed how carefully spaced my babies were, with no other weeds around them. To him, he saw only juniper bushes and some random green stuff in between that had to go. He looked stricken as he heard me out. Back in my room, I saw few minutes later that the head of grounds was there with him and I spoke to her through my open window staring down at the now barren dirt.

She apologized for not instructing Mr. Weedwhacker better and said she would have the plants replaced next week. When I heard others in the apartments on the other end of this main building had sadly complained of similar destruction, I realized this young man had blundered his way through the morning. Well. Obviously, this is no terrible tragedy. It is merely the loss of my anticipated pleasures. I already had the satisfaction of a job well done, as the plants were clearly going to thrive in their relocation. I will enjoy their relatives when they arrive, and presumably the young man in question will have gained some knowledge, and/or, someone better equipped will take over weed whacking.

All spiritual practices warn of worldly attachment, which does not mean that we shouldn’t love our lives and all that we encounter. Rather, it is to remind us that nothing is permanent. I love the Buddhist saying, “The cup is already broken.” To fully live this concept means that we can choose to deeply invest our love and enjoyment of everything and everyone, right now. The objects of our love will not last. Nothing does. Above all, it is only love itself that endures. Because my garden was decimated on the anniversary eve of my life at Kendal, the incident momentarily triggered my far more serious loss of husband and home. By the afternoon, I managed to incorporate the whole experience and let it go. I wasted nothing in creating my small nursery- soon -to- bloom garden. We come and we go in our seasons. May we learn to passionately love them all in the time we are given.

Veils and Luminescence

Diary 5/31/19

It has been a year since my trek from Woodstock, N.Y. to Oberlin, OH. Tomorrow marks the anniversary of my arrival at Kendal at Oberlin. This calendar event weighs both heavily and lightly in my thoughts. It is a safe and lovely haven for docking my small boat. The burden of sailing through grief and loss, anchors the memory in my being. Sparkling new revelations were also stirred in the wake of a broken heart that shone in the water like luminescent plankton. My past was torn up, shredded, and tossed on the Ohio waters like confetti. My daughters and son-in-law were my steady pilots in the initial transition. They supported me in each their own ways, and were in my daily concerns as my daughters also acquired new lives as fatherless young women. Our family reconfigured in benign paths that we are still co-creating to our mutual benefits.

At Kendal, I have been met creatively on every front. Writing, performing, singing, dancing, meditating, and supporting others as I am supported, engages and nourishes me in ways that I have not been for many long years. Since my laminoplasty, I am now moving towards greater mobility with good help from my Physical Therapy team. After working with me twice every week for this whole year, they know me well. They truly rejoice in my slow but steady recovery.

I miss my N.Y. friends often but, I find new friendships the more I participate in any of the committees that are the internal backbone of this sprawling organization. I recently became a member of the Quiet Room committee. In my overflowing grief on the first week I arrived, I was surprised to discover that there wasn’t a non-denominational chapel or quiet room where I could retreat. The old one had been absorbed into a new wing built specifically for those residents with dementia. Six years later, a committee has been formed to address this glaring lack. It is finally “in the 2019 budget”; magic words that speak to manifesting a designated calm space for staff, residents, and grieving families coming to be with their loved one approaching death.

With six other women, it was a pleasure to arrive at a consensus, which is the Quaker way of conducting all business. We were given someone’s former office to make a practical, but comforting room. We chose a soothing paint color, and new carpeting and furniture. We await fabric swatches for our chosen seating that is neither too high, too deep, or too difficult to get into and out of for our eldering bodies. All accommodations were duly noted, and no wheelchairs were harmed in the making of this quiet movie.

I am on other committees as well, and just agreed to join a brand new one initiated by a new resident- the wildlife committee. Not everyone thinks of benign solutions concerning squirrels, rabbits, goose poop producers, and so on. There already is an Arboretum committee, as our Kendal grounds are officially an arboretum. No one needs to begin a Lorax (Dr. Seuss reference) committee to speak for the trees. I have a dawn redwood tree outside one of my windows. It is fully leafed out in its frothy delicate way. It will be here long, and very tall, after I am gone, perhaps even after this building is gone. At the moment, my imported cement frog and turtle, dubbed, “The Aquanauts” by my family and friends from N.Y., rest beneath its branches. I looked out the window the other morning and did a double take as a mourning dove folded her feathers and lay down on the turtle’s back, covering him completely. Perhaps she enjoyed the radiant heat. She was still there when I left for lunch.

This last month has been a veiled time of remembrance, grief, and gratitude. The acute pain of my losses has dulled, as it must. The waters are stilled and more placid. My senses are less vivid as the flow of life inevitably carries me along into the larger pond. I am not exactly waiting for whatever comes next. It will come whether I will it to, or not. I am endeavoring to simply be open and ready and led into the unknown by this new year of life at Kendal, my home.