Wednesday, December 19, 2012

O me O my.

Woke up this morning from a dream about Jim.
Started crying. "Come on", I say to myself, "That doesn't help".

The rest of the family arrived last night. Their plane was late so by the time they arrived I was asleep.

Today our Christmas Holiday really begins.

If Jim were here he would tell me its important for me to join in - to be part of the celebration.

We are here together - because he isn't here.

All our family is grieving too. I am the mother - but - - -
I don't know whether I can play "let's pretend" and join in. Or, be the mother.

At home, I live alone. Its a surprise to me that I have grown to like it. My grieving times are mostly very private. I get through them, pull myself together and then, face the world.

I had not thought about the fact that being in the family group in tight-knit surroundings I would feel very exposed - emotionally - often choking on my feelings.

In the books "on grief" they tell you that people say grieving makes people very selfish. People say people who are grieving think only of themselves. It must seem that way. But the truth is - at times you can't think beyond the ache in your heart . I think that's what some people don't understand.

I am sure I did not understand the aching loneliness of grief and how it colors the world before I started to feel and live with it.

A wise friend advised me to look at this situation as a "workshop". What have I come to learn from being here - in these circumstances?  Curious idea - not sure it will work for me - -

You mean this is another F-ing learning experience?

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

A for Effort

Let me tell you how I experience some aspects of grief. ** Yesterday I was sitting in a Starbucks on a busy street corner in Lafayette, CA. Christmas music filled the air. Despite my best efforts to hold them off tears started pouring from my eyes and rolling down my cheeks.  I could not control it. ** I am out-of-my-home-area on my sentimental journey to California. For one week I have been "strong" - holding all feelings back. Acting like a "big girl". No crying. ** Now sitting in this very nice small Starbucks where Jim and I have had coffee in past years something has knocked down my defenses and I am crying.  Just a bit at first - and I work hard to push feelings down - because if the tears start I won't be able to stop them until they have dried out. ** I feel incredibly alone - and there is nothing to do but to face it. ** I miss Jim. Its that simple. ** When the realization that he is gone forces itself to the surface - it is absolutely too much. That sounds dramatic doesn't it. Well that is how it is with grief. It is dramatic and you work really hard to hide it. If you are grieving you get "credit" for not showing it.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Some Helpful Suggestions

Dealing with "FIRSTS" is hard. I expected Christmas to one of the toughest. Without too much thought I suggested that our immediate family gather at a neutral spot in California for the holiday. They agreed. At first it seemed a really good solution to a difficult problem. As my departure for my Christmas trip to California came nearer and nearer I found myself very nervous about visiting with Jim's family in his hometown. I was scared I would be overwhelmed by grief and sadness when I visited his home town which I knew well. I would also be seeing his sister and brother who had not been able to attend his funeral for the first time since Jim died. One day I decided to post a question on Facebook and ask advice on what to take with me on this "sentimental journey." People were generous with their suggestions. I am sharing them here in the hopes they will be helpful to anyone else going through a tricky or difficult situation. They have been for me.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Day by day

My dear friend wrote me again today and she describes exactly how I feel.

"you don't know how numb you are at first until the numbness fades, the calling and writing subside, daily life resumes, but the person who filled your personal sky is gone. The immensity of it really strikes home then."

Yes, indeed.

I picked some green leaves and red berries in our yard today and took them to Arlington to leave a bit from home for Jim's grave for Thanksgiving. Some chide me for going out there every week - but they just don't understand. Its comforting to me to be there close to Jim's resting place.

Today as I sat in the car on Roosevelt Drive near Jim's grave I played the 50s on 5 station on Sirius radio. The familiar tunes of that decade brought back images of those days when Jim and I first met, fell in love and married. I felt warm tears run down my cheeks but they were glad as well as sad. I am grateful for memories of those days when we were two young people in love.
It was a sweet time.

The pain is in the daily missing of Jim. As my friend knows and says its the loss of the person who was the everything of your life.

For me it is in having to face the days and the whims of the days alone without Jim to share in the decisions, to talk with, and to love.

For example - yesterday I had to have an unexpected medical test. Things turned out all right, thank God, but the process was scary and I missed Jim's large, warm and comforting hand on mine and his encouragement in facing it.

It did not help that the attending nurse, when she heard my husband died of Bladder Cancer, described how she had hated watching her father die of Lung Cancer.  Sometimes people leave you breathless. Fortunately the Fentanyl kicked in about then and I went to sleep. Unfortunately is was before the Versid so I remember it.

Today I hit a curb when parking the car on busy Connecticut Avenue and when I came back the right front tire on my precious new-to-me car was flat. My first reaction was a kind of panic. Once I would have called Jim - if not to do anything - at least to laugh at the situation. With no one to call I had to suck it up and figure it out...which I can do.  I called the dealership for starters and then Toyota road service sent a flat bed tow truck.  Now I know why I paid for the warranty which included that service. The most aggravating thing about it is - - it was operator i.e. MY error .

This is the getting used to daily real world stuff being changed. Its all mine now. As I wake-up from the fog of grief I am more able to handle it   - - - -  even through the numbness.

But each incident brings home the reality of the truth. Jim is gone. 

And as my friend says, recognizing that "is immense."

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Firsts are Potholes in the Road

An old friend - a long-time widow - sent me a lovely "thinking of you and the holidays" letter. I decided to post my reply because it tells much of what it feels like right now. As well as some of  the things I am learning about what I can and cannot do with comfort and ease.

This is a new life. Nothing about it is like it  was before.

November 13, 2012

The timing on your note yesterday was truly amazing. And I deeply appreciate your thinking of me. It seems that as some of the "fog" lifts that the realization that Jim is gone - and for good - hits harder. That with time - its more not less difficult.  This grief thing is really a beast, isn't it?

And I know the holidays will be hard. I try to blind myself to the decorations and to the Hallmark TV movies but they seep through. I am flying to CA early December for the holidays. 3 months ago it seemed like a good idea - now I wonder. Just the prospect of the flight alone and into San Francisco makes me tear up. I am also going to Jim's hometown to see his family - how about that for walking on hot coals? All our kids and grandkids arrive a few days before Christmas so we will all be together. ( at a favorite time-share resort that Jim and I really enjoyed.) Did I say I was the one who thought this up? 

Some of the over-whelming emotion right now may be coming because I bought a car last week.  First MAJOR decision I have made in-my-life without Jim. It was not easy. I had to. The faithful red Toyota Van collapsed, poor dear - and the guy at the filling station refused to take any more money to keep it on the road. I was furious - and sobbing - but he was probably a real friend. After 12 years of dailies and great trips it is a powerful and real physical connection to Jim. I kept it - to sit in the driveway for awhile.

I love the new car by the way - found the perfect 2010 Toyota Van waiting for me on a dealer's lot. Had to go with the 2010 because Toyota has blown up the new ones so that they are school buses and I could not step up into them. The one I bought is a one-owner vehicle that is so pristine inside it looks like they never drove in it - well I can fix that quick enough. It has every electronic gimmick they made in 2010 - - including heated front seats which I have yearned for every winter. Jim would love it. In fact, from the serendipities that led me to the car, I think he sent me out there to buy it. Oh, damn - I guess I didn't do it by myself after all.

Thinking of you too and your clean sweeping to be ready to move. That's awesome. I hope I have the courage to follow suit come January. 

My cousin, Sandra told me ten years ago that the best thing to do was park a dumpster at the back door and pitch stuff out. I am thinking about it - but first, have to call the shredder truck to eat up 45 boxes of patient records that are stacked in the basement. Feels like I have one more funeral for Jim coming up. Is that how it is?

Are you ready for Thanksgiving? Did you decide to "order in". I am overwhelmed by the crowd you will have at your table - but - then - you are a couple of months younger  than me! 

Karen and I are going to my sister Lynda's in North Carolina for Thanksgiving. She is talking about cooking but I am I hoping we will eat at the nearest Cracker Barrel -  I tell you one thing I am really looking forward to - Lynda works at Southern Supreme during the holidays taking telephone order. She LOVES it, especially the owners and people who work there.  I want a tour of that place - to see everything and breathe it all in. The cake is fine but their PRALINES are out of this world.  Do you know about Southern Supreme - surely yes. 

Its great to hear from you.  Appreciate your sharing your understanding - not everyone does - but you have been there.

 A real hug. Thank you. I



Saturday, November 10, 2012

Gretchen's Birthday

I bought a new car yesterday.
And it was hard
   and a little exciting.
   but always I boomerang back to the loss of what was
   more than what is ahead.

I am glad it is a warm sunny day. 

It is Gretchen's birthday. 

Our daughter Gretchen was born November 10, 1961 in Chapel Hill, NC.

Today is our daughter Gretchen's bitrthday. She would be 51 years old today. Last year we went to Arlington on her 50th birthday - a sad little group - happy to be together.

Now I go once a week and there are two there.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

When It's More Than a Car

Leo speaking.

I am writing because this has been a really hard day for Ellouise.

Well, to start, Jim died eight months ago on the 6th of March so this is an anniversary - and what I have learned by watching Ellouise  is that anniversaries are very emotional. Even if you don't want them to be. The feelings just flood over you.

Well, if the anniversary wasn't enough - this afternoon she got some upsetting news.

Her car - a 2000 Toyota Sienna Minivan that has carried Ellouise and Jim on many great trips as well as kept them on the road for their dailies for 12 years - smells of leaking oil and she had been warned that it was seriously sick.  She took it to her local repair guy who has kept the van going for a dozen years. After four hours he called her at home and told her - "you have to get another car - this one is dangerous to drive and its going to take a lot of money to fix it - if they even can. Its like pouring good money down the drain. "

"You know I don't want to let that car go - for sentimental reasons I want to keep it."

" I understand, believe me, I understand. But I have to be honest and tell you the truth about this car. Its time for you to go car-shopping."

She was sobbing when she hung up the phone. In fact I have not heard her cry as long or openly since Jim died. Is that how this happens - people hold themselves together - and then something happens that taps into all the emotion that has been stored up?

I heard her telling her sister on the phone, "its not fair. I just went through getting his name taken off the title - which also cost $100  - like paying to stab yourself -
 and now I have to give up the car. It's like another death.
Isn't one death enough?"

She ended saying, "this is not fun" and I have to say I can understand why she feels that way.

For the moment things have quieted down and she is researching cars on the computer. She has narrowed down a few things that are important for her in another car . She wants a safe car - one that sits her up high like her present van and wraps her with lots of metal.  Oh, yes and she wants a car that doesn't cost a fortune.

Ellouise has never bought a car by herself and she admits that she doesn't know very much about the the mechanics of cars. When she looks at the cars she is drawn to the frills - like heated seats, hands-free telephone capability plus having USB ports and iPod connections as well as a built in screen for the GPS.  Not one of those has anything to do with how the car runs. The guy at the service station did tell her to "call" with any questions. She hopes he meant it.

What's the point of all this? Just to say that until I started watching Ellouise live "in-grief" I had no idea what it meant to be grieving.

Grief is not something a person "gets over".

Grief is sly and takes hold of the person who has lost someone they love - and hangs on like a snapping turtle - - 

Its not fun - it hurts.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Watch out for yourself

My sister Kathy recently came for a week which turned into 10 days because of the Frankenstorm Sandy. It was a warm and good visit.

Kathy stepped in and helped with the set up for the storm - but more than that - she stepped in to help me through a few things I hadn't expected to be so dificult.

It is now eight months since Jim died...and I appreciated her being here  - perhaps even more now than earlier -

Yes,  I have done many tough things during these months but there was one looming that really called for a sister's help.
Jim and I held everything ..we thought..jointly. But, it turned out that one thing had slipped through. The title on our car was only in Jim's name. The license tags were expiring October 31 and I had to take Jim's name off the title in order to get new ones.

Kathy went to the Department of Motor Vehicles with me to fix it. I had to take a packet of papers: Jim's death certificate, the original title, the Administration paper naming me Executor of the estate, insurance info, and my drivers license. Waiting my turn, holding those documents I began to tear up as it "hit" me emotionally. I was here to accomplish one more separation from Jim.

No, you don't get used to it...

My voice broke and I cried when the woman took the title. When I asked for a copy she refused  saying, "you don't need it". When I said "I know that" she realized the emotional impact, relented and copied it for me. And issued the new annual sticker for the tags.

So, here is what I am learning:
We are all going to die, that's certain. You can save your loved one a lot of pain if you take the time before something happens to side step emotional pot holes. Just do it together and forget it.

 I wish Jim and I had done more to prepare. In fairness I have to admit - Jim wanted to; I couldn't - because I could not admit - even to myself that he was leaving.

If you are married or hold assets together with anyone - check that everything is in both your names.  It will save one of you from tough experiences later in many areas, not just the DMV.

Gather the ownership titles, deeds, wills, insurance info and other financial paperwork into a central file where they are easily accessible - or leave a list of the documents and where they are located. Someone will have to file Estate Taxes and will need that paper work.

Yes,  I talked to the bank folks shortly after Jim died. All the accounts were in both our names. My son set me up on on-line banking. I like it and that seemed to be that. But don't under estimate the toll grief takes on your "thinking". You aren't aware of it yourself so why should strangers recognize that you aren't really following what they are telling you.

My sister is retired from a national bank where she was a branch manager. She went with me to talk to the banker guy about my accounts - what kind of accounts are they, are they the best type for me etc.  He had gone over this with me before but it was like I was hearing it for the first time. I had forgotten that a few years ago Jim had activated an "access" line of credit as a resource if I needed it. When and how would it be the most helpful if I ever decided to tap into it? Having my sister with me was wonderfully helpful. Whenever she saw that I was not fully getting it she asked questions to clarify and make sure I understood. It makes a big difference.

Another tip: Don't think that because months have passed that you have moved beyond asking someone to advise or help you. Take somebody you trust with you when you have to do something really hard - like change a car title, and watch out for surprises - sometimes things that seem to be small have a powerful punch.

When you are grieving - you look normal on the outside - but inside you aren't - so -  protect yourself.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Here Comes Sandy


Since Friday we have been preparing for Sandy, the Frankenstorm. Thank goodness my sister has been here to help Karen get the more "physical" stuff done. I am better but still having trouble with my back and am not good at all with lifting. We would have been in quite a "fix" without Kathy. Here they are covering the wood piles with a heavy-duty tarp and tying it down so that the winds can't pick up the logs and toss them around the yard like missiles.

But, actually the biggest "help" has come directly from Jim.  Karen knows exactly what to do to get ready for storms because Jim taught her. He was determined that his girls would be able to take care of themselves in an emergency - and that has certainly proved to be borne out this week-end. Not only that - over the years he has gathered all the supplies we need to batten down the hatches here - rope, tarps etc. Our cabinets are loaded with lanterns, radios and batteries...all we have to do is get them out and test the batteries already loaded in the lanterns and radios.

 As a doctor, Jim was always classified "essential personnel" during storms and other emergencies and he liked it. He still is our "essential personnel."

I can't see that ever changing.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Hello, Leo here.

Its been a while since I spoke up so thought I would stick my two cents worth in.

How are we doing around here? Pretty good  - - except for some days--.  A few weeks ago she tried again to read Joan Didion's book, "The Year of Magical Thinking" and she just could not do it. She told a friend, " I am done with that. She is talking about how I feel - - so I have no doubts about the truth of what she is saying - but I don't need to read it from her - when I am feeling it for myself."

What is this "magical thinking?" she is talking about. As best I can see it - its thinking something will happen that can't - - like maybe Jim will be in the house when she comes home. Saturday night she went to hear storyteller Bobby Norfolk in his program for Telling Moments Theater and when she walked up to the house and pulled out her keys she started crying  - - she knew - again - that Jim would not be waiting inside to hear about the show.

During the evening three people came up to her, " We just heard, Ellouise. We did not know about Jim." Sweet, lovely really, but it brings her to tears and she has to turn away.  She says, "I hope they understand. I appreciate their caring but ---- it's hard to talk about."

She asked her bereavement counselor, "how long is this going to keep on?" and she says back, "its different for everybody - and 7 months is not much time, you know. You and Jim were together 57 years."

People compliment her - "you are so brave." or "you are doing so well." and I hear her telling her sister - "If they want to think I am OK  - let them.  I am not brave nor am I doing well - but I fake it and make people think I am. Sometimes even I think I am fine - and then pow - a tsunami of emotion knocks me over. I am perfecting my deep breathing."

This week-end she worked on getting together papers for the lawyer who is preparing the estate taxes - the deadline is approaching. I can tell you from what I hear and see Ellouise hates this kind of work. It doesn't say in the books that going back through those papers is like thumbing an album - - especially where she sees Jim's distinctive handwriting. He once told her how, as a kid, he practiced for hours to make his characteristic J when he signed James as his signature.

These are the tough spots.

A new kitten named Angel is a bright spot. She is funny and cuddly and brings joy to both Ellouise and Jim's dog Leia. Have you ever had a despondent dog? They are deeply grieving and they can't talk it through - but in Leia's case -  this kitten has brought back her spirit. Its a touching thing to watch. She is coming out so much that she even lets Ellouise pet her - and that is amazing.

Amazing is good.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012


October 6 - marked 7 months since Jim died.
I can't keep from measuring time.
Some days it seems yesterday; other days much longer.
 Emotions continue to sweep through me with no warning.
Tears well or follow. On the other hand I do feel stronger.

My thinking is clearer than it has been. But I don't trust it. How long does this go on? There are no answers for that question. I was talking with a storytelling colleague last week who was telling me in detail about his medical situation. When I began to feel a tide of emotion rising in me I touched his shoulder gently: "I am sorry. I am not the right person for this conversation." He looked startled then nodded: "Oh, I guess that's still going on." It was an easy way for me to move on.

Recently I spent four days 400 miles from home at the National Storytelling Festival an event that Jim and I enjoyed together for eight years. I was afraid to go even though I was traveling with 3 friends who knew Jim and understood that I am not fully back to myself.

I knew going was a test - but I told myself that I could not dodge these tough challenges.  And, as a storyteller, I also wanted to make sure people saw me "out" and back at work. You know, the networking game.

It was harder than I expected. Memories of my happier times there with Jim hovered like a mist over the town and storytelling tents. There were some moments when I had to with-draw to give myself space to keep myself together. So I spent a lot of the week-end floating on-my-own.

After a 56 year marriage this on-your-own is new to me. Jim and I were together for 57 years  - I was 19 when we married and he was 24. We grew old together. That's wonderful - except there are not blueprints for how the one-left-behind builds a new life.  I am making it up one- day- at- a- time. Some days go better than others.

As I "floated" through Jonesborough and the Festival people who knew that Jim has died were sweet and greeted me warmly with "how are you?".  "Shush" was often on my lips.  "I can't talk about it." I hope it did not feel that I was cutting people out - that was not it - I was working hard to keep myself together.
So I focused more on striking up conversations with strangers. That was safer. And often interesting  - - and diverting. I took a lot of pictures, anything to keep my attention focused away from the sadness that would sweep over me.

Strangers were safer because they did not know there had ever been someone named Jim and I did not tell them. That tactic helped me "hang together" but it intensified my realization of my being on my own - alone.

That this "alone" is my new life.

I have to work out ways to deal with it.

No matter how much I look for him or expect him to be around the corner - its not going to happen.

I tried to read Joan Didion's book The Year of Magical Thinking several weeks ago and I couldn't - -
because too much of it hits too close to my own magical thinking.


Tuesday, September 18, 2012


When ever I step outside my house I take a chance that I will bump into something or someone that will upset my delicate balance.

Today I took art work to American University to be part of an exhibition in the Katzen Art Center Rotunda. Using a rolling crate I was able to handle moving the art work without the help that Jim always gave me.  For the last ten years in his semi-retirement he worked with me to deliver art work and hang shows. When I walked into the gallery I began to feel his absence. Jim was part of the "regulars" for me. Something was amiss. I hurried through chats and unpacking so that I could get out of there as fast as possible. When the elevator reached my floor in the parking garage I moved quickly to the car - - with tears streaming down my cheeks. Once inside the car, in indoor parking lot low-light,  the sobs erupted.

By the time I reached the bank I had stopped crying and pulled myself together.  I sat across from the youngish bank manager and asked my questions telling him that I was a recent widow. "He looked at the paper I had handed him. " Doctor Schoettler. Are you talking about Doctor Schoettler?" his face softened. " I knew him. Madam, I knew him. I am very sorry for your loss." I felt the tears pushing against my eyelids so I talked faster with my questions. We finished just as the first tears slipped out.

"I liked him."
" He was easy to like. "
"He liked doing business here."
He smiled and nodded mouthing a soundless thank you.

At that I felt a flood threatening so I fled.

Another of Jim's legacies.
He made friends.
And, they pass his kindness back to me.

But you see, the flip side is that it makes the world a difficult place for me to be sometimes.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Mama Dream

I woke up this morning from a dream where I heard my mother's voice telling me she would be arriving on a train. "How's that for you?"

This is the first time I have heard my mother's voice since she died five years ago. But I recognized it absolutely. And, I welcomed it. Although not with the same fan fare I would have given it seven months ago.

Mama's is not the voice I yearn to hear.

Yearn - that's quite a word isn't it? Says more than any other about the hurting of missing, wanting, and loss.

As I woke from hearing Mama's voice I wanted to turn over and tell Jim about the dream. We often shared our dreams in the mornings. We would have talked about it and wondered about "why now" and looked for clues that would help explain it or learn from it. "Take a look at the dreams" - that was part of Jim's business as a Psychiatrist and Psychoanalyst. "See what you are telling yourself."

Now I have to figure out the "Mama" dream on my own.

Add that to the list  - the list of things I now do on my own.

Truth be told that list is one of the most difficult things about this new life as a widow.

And, its hard to get used to.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Paper Work

Realizing more and more how much paperwork Jim had to do - on top of all his medical reports and insurance forms - especially the Medicare claims. No wonder he was fed up with all of that. It was endless.

Now I have to do all the paper work - which is ridiculous - putting an "essence" person to take care of matters that require attention to detail. 

This week a Montgomery County computer sent me a form about Jim's will that really gave me heart-burn and then turned out to be an automated sending. Nothing out of order with my files at all. I will not be called in. Let me tell you  it is the unexpected things like this one that give me a fit. 

I feel like everything in my world is already tipsy so adding another tipping factor feels much more important than it actually is. 

I am hoping that with time this work will feel more manageable.

And while I am hoping for change lets add the amount of mail that drops through our front door. Since I seem to look like a prospect these days, I receive mailings from bereavement groups, reverse mortage offers, and other various services a new widow might need. Sorry they are wasting their paper and postage.

I am tough on trolling mail - toss it right out.  Jim was much easier on them - he actually read some. Not me. Comes from what I learned when I was managing a  direct mail fundraising effort for a large non-for-profit. That experience made me heart-hearted about uninvited mail - even though I often have to turn to it myself to promote storytelling programs. Just saying.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Unpredictable days

This has been a hard week.

Emotional unpredictability is my new normal. I go along doing what I have to, laughing and smiling and then - wham - the mask falls off.  The charade is over. The grieving widow emerges. Often its not a pretty sight - so I try to keep it behind my own door. Not even showing my family how it feels if I can help it.

As much crying as I have been doing its too bad that I don't look good when I cry. My face and eyes are red and swollen. Lately I sometimes make unfamiliar primal animal noises without warning. Only remember that happening when our daughter died.

Jim was a wonderful hugger - using those great long arms of his to circle me close. I miss his hugs.
I shy away when anyone else hugs me... almost cannot tolerate that touch because it makes me miss his touch all the more.

That's one snapshot of what it is like to be wearing grief around your shoulders like a cold shawl.

I realized last week that I have to carefully watch out for myself. When I accepted an invitation to a pot luck supper I was delighted by the thought of being with a small group of friends - couples - that Jim and I had known for a long time and felt close to. That afternoon as I thought about preparing something to take to add to the dinner - I knew I had made a painful mistake. I was not ready to do this - to go to a small group where I would have been with Jim - where I would feel his absence more sharply because if he was not dead he would have been there too. I called and cancelled. "Sorry"

Several days later my bereavement counselor congratulated me for "taking care of yourself.  Advising me, Always be sure you have a back door. You need a way out to protect yourself.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Looking for a Road Map

Every morning when I wake up and turn toward Jim's side of the bed to only a smooth pillow I know its true. Jim is gone.

I ask other widows how long I will open my eyes when I wake up thinking  of Jim or reach out for him to empty air. The answer is usually a long silence and then a sigh, "it depends" some say but the honest women just look at me and tell the truth, "don't worry about it - some days are better than others."

That waking up moment is hard. It can color the rest of the day if you linger in the haze of memory or the sadness of the missing. I am best off when I get my feet on the floor, open the blinds and move.

Jim's aunt, a long time widow, wrote to me shortly after Jim died with sound advice, "keep busy."

But I find that more than that I need to have structure in my days.

Jim and I were married almost 57 years and for those years his schedule was the primary scaffolding for my day. We were married in his third year of medical school and his long-hours days never waivered for his entire career as a physician. He was up and out very early every morning and home around 7pm or later. Most of those years I scheduled myself and our family around him. Until the last five years when our schedules ran together. We both scheduled around Jim's doctors appointments or he also entered any of my activities in his appointment book as he planned around my work schedule.

I find that these days the toughest moments of my day are the late afternoon when I would be thinking about supper or listening for his car in the driveway. Its like my body is trained to expect Jim's coming. Now I know how much the little nuances of the day kept me on track. Especially after Jim moved his Practice to his office downstairs when much activity in the house was effected by whether patients were expected.

This is not particular to me. Someone told me about a group of widowed women who meet every afternoon at 5PM for a coffee or wine rather than face the setting sun alone.

That's not an option for me but I do have to develop a new structure for my days.

That's all about choices - and determining priorities. Now there is a tough one. Things that were important to me a year ago now seem meaningless so I have to choose wisely - not just fill my hours randomly. 

That's why I felt very fortunate to start the Memoir Class this week and have the teacher assign writing a mission statement for your life as our homework.

I will see where this goes because I surely need a road map for my life right now.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Widow's Work

My life is totally unpredictable - - emotionally.

This morning I got up, opened the blinds to the sunny day and felt like getting right to work to whittle down my "today" list. I answered emails, wrote a blog, post and then called the MD DMV to see what I have to do to get new car license plates.

The other day I received a letter from the DMV pointing out a problem. Jim is deceased. Well, yes. And, I agree - it is a problem. The problem from their point of view is that Jim is the only one named the owner of our car. My name is not on the title - so they cannot issue me new tags until I take his death certificate, the original title and the administration papers that named me the Executor of Jim's Will to a full service DMV office. Drat - not to the near-by Express Office. I have a few weeks before my current license plates expire.

It all sounds very straight forward doesn't it? Its straight forward all right but to me - its another erasure. Another time I remove Jim's name. Is it just me that feels that as losing another connection?

It took a couple of hours for all that to settle on me. Then I started crying. From nowhere I was sobbing. But I finally recognized that it wasn't from nowhere - - it was related to the call to the DMV.

You see its not the car really. We didn't realize only Jim's name was on the title. If we had Jim would have corrected that himself. He would have added my name. No - my feelings are bubbling up from my having to take his name off. That's a widow's work.

My advice - be sure you are in joint ownership on everything with your spouse. Then you can by-pass this little chore than can leave you on the floor. 

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Starting Over

Jim died six months ago today. Some days it seems a long time and other days its just like yesterday. One thing is constant - how much I miss him.

Jim and I were married 56 and a half years.
It is difficult for me to turn over and step into a world without him.
I wake up some mornings calling out for him when I hear the dog downstairs.
Or, I expect him to be here when I walk back into the house after being out for a while.

We certainly lived out the wish to "grow old together."

But somehow I never really thought ahead to what it would be like when "death did us part."

I was a wife and now


I am a widow.

Learning how to live a new life in a world without Jim is hard.

Harder than I ever imagined it would be.

Post Script:

I just realized - those two pictures are the beginning and the end of our story - like covers opening and closing a book.

I still have those strappy a box in the basement. Since that was a borrowed wedding dress they are the one tangible souvenir of that happy moment.

Monday, September 3, 2012

A New Home for My Story


Hello. My name is Ellouise Schoettler. My husband, Jim Schoettler, died at home under Hospice care March 6, 2012.  His first Funeral Mass was March 24. His next Mass and final burial at Arlington National Cemetary was August 1.

The full military honors ceremony was solemn, beautiful and comforting but I don't recommend having to plan two funerals if you can figure things out differently. 

From the beginning I needed to write about what was happening and I did so on my other blog

For six years Ellouisestory has been my one place to write about story, storytelling and family.

I am working hard to return to my professional life as a storyteller and I want to have a little separation between the storyteller me and the widow me.

Now I want to talk about my life as a widow here.