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.