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 sandals..in 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 Ellouisestory.blogspot.com.

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.