Thursday, March 28, 2013

Another Anniversary

Since I posted I have been through another anniversary - one year on March 24th for Jim's Funeral Mass. It was hard. That was Palm Sunday. I chose to go to Mass alone and afterwards I went to our Prayer Group. That was a right decision - to be with folks who were at the Mass last year and who also knew and cared about Jim - and to pray with them. A year - what does that mean when you are grieving? For me it means that the shock has worn off and the fog has lifted and I really feel the loss even more deeply - but others are looking for signs and reassurances that I am "better", that I am getting over it. I can think back to doing that myself - to not understanding that the loss of someone you love is not something you get over. But I am better - better at getting up and going on. I have taken to writing a few sort-of poems especially when I am sitting in the car. 5:10 PM I am sitting in the car outside my house. It is 5:10 PM. Traffic on Brierly Road is picking up as people start coming home from work. This is the time of day the very core of my body most misses Jim. I expect him to come home - even though I know he won't be coming today. or any day. DAMN!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

One Year Anniversary of Jim's Death

Jim died March 6, 2012 so this month I have  bumped up against the one-year anniversary.  I planned several things to bring my family together - a Mass and a meal - and thanks to a snow storm those plans were interrupted  - but we flexed and things worked out.

There was nothing easy about it.
For one thing it does not seem like a year. Somehow my perception of time has changed. Instead of stretching out it seems to contract.  Days shrink.

I don't know what I thought the year-end would bring. If I expected to be out of the woods and moving on - I was rediculously misguided. How could I have thought that after 58 years I could just shake myself and go on. It isn't that easy.

Some days or nights I ache for Jim to be here with a greater pain than I felt in the beginning. Now that is something that most books I have read agree on - the later days are harder than the earlier. I guess the fog I have been living in also blocks the reality and hurt.

But I am managing. I am working hard to do the Federal Taxes for the first time, fortunately with help from my son and daughter.  My new one-woman show for the Capital Fringe this summer is really coming along and I am in the middle of a series of  "try outs" to practice it.

In April I am making a 10 day storytelling tour to SC and Ga/ I will be featured at a Storytelling Festival and then tell three one-person shows - all different - in three cities.  I am excited - and scared.

After a successful House Concert try-out last week-end I felt so alone without Jim being there. He and I always talked over a performance afterwards - identifying where it was going well and then tweaking spots that needed work. Fortunately my friends who had hosted the performance worked it over with me next morning. But it was a warning. My storytelling trip is not going to be a walk-in-the-park. I have to prepare for that.

Something is missing. And, at this one year milestone I painfully know that Jim will always be missing.

In closing I want to recommend two books that have been helpful.

Don't Take My Grief Away  is the first book I found that really spoke to me in a human and kind way about what I was living through and with. It is written in fairly simple conversational style which I needed in the early days because I could not fully concentrate on anything I was reading.

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion was a challenge. Much has been written about it as a personal look at the process of loss and grief. And it is. But I could not read it until about three weeks before the one-year anniversary. I tried two times getting no futher than the 2nd or 3rd chapter. I just was not ready to hear what she was saying until last month. That may be just me.

Both have something to offer.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Rough Days

Where is that Leo Lion when I need him? He could write this quicker using fewer words than I do. These are tough days. March 6 is the one year anniversary of Jim's death. On top of many "firsts" coming just before it. Yesterday I donated our 2000 Toyota Van to public radio. It had been sitting in its accustomed place in front of our house - without moving - since October. I sat in the car Thursday afternoon and made lists of all I could remember of trips and times Jim and I spent in the car together. Wrote and wrote and wrote. And cried. I did not want to give up the car. It gave out. The pick up truck arrived at 7:30 am. He hooked up the car, removed the license plates and I signed the paperwork and gave him the title. The man was understanding. When we were done he drove to the corner and turned around so that when he drove by our house I could get a good picture. This morning I did not look out the front window. I can imagine the van is still there. Seems foolish I know but some days I want to grab hold of anything that belonged to Jim. Hang on. Hold him here. Deny that he is not coming back. So, now its a year. Maybe I should be further along. I thought I would be coming closer to normal - but then I realized why I am not I am waking up - not but wide awake. But maybe others did not have two funerals - five months later. Jim died March 6. We had a wonderful uplifting Memorial Mass on March 24. Then I brought Jim's urn here. Because he was to be buried at Arlington National Cemetary - and you have to wait to be given a date. And, I waited and waited and waited until finally they called two months later to tell me the burial would be August 1. A five month wait until the final burial. I loved having Jim's ashes here with me. The urn was sitting on a bookcase shelf in the living room. The morning we left for Arlington it was like another wrench as we took Jim's urn to the car. The Arlington burial was a full military honors ceremony was wonderful. Ritual does sweeten the sorrow. But the burial was a new final good-bye - another funeral - - and suddenly I was emotionally back to the beginnign. The grief choked me again. So, here I am - at his one-year anniversary...but its not a year for me... And, there are still more "firsts" ahead.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Counting the days.

This morning I counted the days until March 6 and the one-year anniversary of Jim's death - 11days.

What happens then?

By some magic will the hole in my heart stitch up?
Will there be some monumental change in my feelings -

or will it just be the last day of the first year and the beginning of the second year?


Thursday, February 21, 2013

Returning through Memories

Jim viewing Jersualem from the Mount of Olives

In Facebook posts someone is sending pictures from Israel while they are on a trip to the Holy Land. Today they posted a picture on the Sea of Galilee.

Seeing the pictures brought on a flood of memories of the trip Jim and I made more than a dozen years ago. The images are still so vivid.

We arrived in Jerusalem, and then in the next two to three weeks of our tour we moved on to the Galilee, to Mt. Nebo, by way of Petra in Jordan, and then we crossed into Egypt for a trip up Mt. Sinai ending with another few days in Jerusalem. It was wonderful!

Our tour leader was the incomparable Biblical scholar and Paulist Priest, Fr. Larry Boadt who could be counted on for inspiring sermons and enlightening teaching of the archeology and holy sites. And, lots of laughter.

I am so grateful to have shared the trip with Jim.  There are many sweet and touching memories and a few that are completely hilarious.

When we were at the foot of Mt. Sinai the plan was to climb at 2 am so that we would arrive at the top for sunrise. I knew I could not walk up so Jim hired a camel for me. I was game because I really wanted to climb to the top and share the early morning Mass with the group. It turned out to be quite an experience. The camel driver left the path and in the intense darkness I have no idea whether we were on a well-trodden way or not. I could see our group - including Jim -some distance away with their flashlights bobbing as they walked. The camel stepped carefully and the driver cooed to reassure him he was doing a good job. Initially I was nervous - no - I was scared - and then I began to really see the stars - so bright in the inky sky. It was as though we were on that mountain side completely alone. It was glorious.

Jim reached the concrete dismount at the same moment the camel knelt beside it and the driver said, "Madam, throw your leg over the side." Was he crazy? After two hours on the back of the beast I could not move my leg. Fortunately for my modesty it was Jim's hands Jim reached up and lifted me down.

We were on the top of Mount Sinai at sunrise which is an indelible memory. On the way down the group stopped at an outcropping clearing where Father Boadt said Mass and we had Communion. A blessing.

For the years afterwards when Jim and I heard or read certain Gospel passages we would look at each other, smile and nod. Nothing else was needed.

My heart aches for that closeness with each other's memories.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

An Unexpected Phone Call

Does your mind or memory travel unexpectedly to other times and places. Without any warning I find myself walking through the streets of Baltimore, or picking up groceries in Brooklyn or sitting in our bedroom in Chapel Hill - at the same time I am taking care of business right here in my home in Chevy Chase.

 For years I have been mining my memories of personal experience when I work on new stories. I sit with photographs or a pen and pencil and make lists or day dream to recall particular events. No, this is different. It happens spontaneously and I am not calling up a particular time or event - - it floats up, real, fresh and vivid on its own and I am grateful for it.

I breathed a sigh of relief when I asked my dear childhood friend if this ever happens to her. "Oh, lord, yes!"

Last night a phone call brought on one of those unexpected experiences. I was startled when I saw the name on the ID screen on the phone - - one of Jim's classmates from Johns Hopkins Medical School - - and - they knew each other in high school and were in the same class at Fresno State College. He was calling from California to say hello and offer condolences. "Ellouise I just read the announcement about Jimmy in the Alumni journal"
Jim Schoettler - Fresno State College,  Senior Class 1952

Jimmy. No one calls Jim - Jimmy except members of his family or those who knew him in Fresno. Jack has known Jim longer than I have. I knew when he thought of Jim he would be seeing him with the same early images that I do. And, more. He added a rich fullness and added dimension to incidents Jim has told me about.

Jack's voice was familiar. Hearing him brought back memories of the two of them wearing white lab coats and walking the halls of Hopkins hospital.  Or sitting together at a banquet table at reunions.
He talked about his memories of Jim - " a special guy" and I felt Jim's warmth near-by.

So many of the people I talk to know Jim through me - not because they were associated with him on his own. Talking with Jack was very important to me - hearing his memories of Jim which are part of Jim's "own" self - and bringing back the guy I met and fell in love with. Plus Jack reminded me of the wide-eyed young girl I was when Jim called me his "itty bitty buddy" as I stood under his arm.

I was grateful for Jack's call.

This is another thing I have learned as a widow - a card or a call means more than I ever realized.

Monday, February 18, 2013

The "California Sweater"

Working on my new one-woman show - Arlington National Cemetery: My Forever Home - brings up many memories, sweet, funny and poignant.

We claimed this Arlington space in 1964 when our youngest child died suddenly. Jim was an Air Force Medical Officer stationed at Andrews Air Force Base in the Washington area and he exercised his Arlington option.

A few months before Jim died we went to Arlington to acknowledge our daughter Gretchen's 50th birthday with flowers and prayers. It was strange to stand at that headstone knowing that Jim's cancer was active again and progressing.

When I look at pictures of us together I am reminded again and again of  how I could slip comfortably right under his arm as if we were made to be together.  We often laughed that we were getting shorter - proportionately - so that we continued to fit together.

Jim enjoyed this pink sweater our son-in-law Brad gave to him when we went to California in March 2011 for the Rogue Festival. Jim wore it as he walked the streets of the Tower District in Fresno tacking up the posters for my Pushing Boundaries show. Those blocks in the Tower District were familiar to Jim. Tower District was his childhood neighborhood and he felt comfortable there and relished the chances to wander in early memories. We recorded many of them.  In fact we enjoyed being there so much that I performed at the Rogue three successive times.


We often chuckled and named the sweater  "the California sweater" as it was warm and comfortable perfect for the chilly days of the early Spring of 2011. Jim wore it like a familiar friend. I loved seeing him wear it because it accentuated his blue eyes - especially when they were twinkling.

Here Jim is standing on the deck at his brother Harold's home down South - the native way of identifying the Orange County area.

Sometimes when I am feeling particularly lonely for Jim, I slip the pink "California sweater" over my head. When it "swallows" me I feel enveloped in a warm hug.

I will not be giving it away anytime soon - probably never.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

A Surprise on Valentines Day

Valentine's Day I went out to Arlington National Cemetery carrying roses for Jim and found a surprise waiting.

In the six days since I was there last they had set the new tombstone with Jim's name engraved on the stone. I knew it was coming. In fact I had called to check on it. They told me it would be about five months after the burial August 1 - and it was.

I was grateful the workmen who set the stone were so respectful of the stones I have brought from our travel collection and left there since August. They replaced them carefully - arranged almost exactly as I had.  Another evidence of the honor and care they give to the deceased and to the families.

But I was not prepared for my feelings.

Sad and glad.

Jim died March 6, 2012 - so we are only 17 days away from his one-year anniversary. If March 6th had come and gone without the stone in place I know I would have been disappointed and sad. However - not having any warning - left me breathless.

The presence of the stone feels like a period - an ending. Another chapter of Jim's book closes.

But, I don't think of it as the final chapter in the book I share with Jim. It is just different.

I am comforted by that.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Remembering Valentine's Day

Remembering Valentine's Day.

Last year Jim was in Sibley Hospital in Washington, DC on Valentine's Day - his final hospitalization.

He arranged with our son Jim to bring in this rose so that when he asked me to get him something for the cabinet on Valentine's morning - - it was waiting for me to find it.

Jim was a darling "romantic" and he loved Valentine's Day. From the time we were dating he gave me a single rose - and often something else. I cooked a special dinner. Less special when there were also "kids" under foot - more later when we were an empty-nest couple.

Today - I have the card, cannot find the vase which I did bring home from the hospital -

 but I have this picture and a very dear memory - actually many very dear and sweet loving memories.

Today I will turn the car radio to 50s on 5 on Sirius Radio and drive to Arlington National Cemetery with a single rose - - and wrap myself in those memories.

I recently read a book - Understanding Your Grief  - in which the doctor-author talks not of healing your grief but of reconciling it in with the new life you are living.

I am trying to do that.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

I am not resigned - from a poem by Edna St. Vincent Millay.

Today, during her workshop, Elizabeth Ellis, master storyteller-teacher, read this poem by Edna St. Vincent Millay to the group. When I heard it, it sounded a note in my brain and touched my heart.

"I am not resigned - "
Jim Schoettler on the deck of the USS Hornet.
Oh, how I agree.
This poem speaks to me - - for me.

Dirge Without Music

I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground.
So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind:
Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely. Crowned
With lilies and with laurel they go; but I am not resigned.

Lovers and thinkers, into the earth with you.
Be one with the dull, the indiscriminate dust.
A fragment of what you felt, of what you knew,
A formula, a phrase remains,—but the best is lost.

The answers quick and keen, the honest look, the laughter, the
They are gone. They are gone to feed the roses. Elegant and curled
Is the blossom. Fragrant is the blossom. I know. But I do not
More precious was the light in your eyes than all the roses in the

Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.

Edna St. Vincent Millay

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Home - 1

Ellouise and Jim Schoettler - 25th Wedding Anniversary

On our 25th wedding anniversary (1980) our teen-age children put on a really nice
buffet dinner and cake cutting at our home.  It was a warm group made up of people from many aspects of our life together.  It was a lovely evening.

Jim and I bought and moved into this house - where I still live - in 1970. It has seen many gatherings that linger in my memories. In fact the whole house reeks of those memories.. gatherings, holidays, birthdays, just quiet evenings and busy days.  Jim's presence is strong here. Sometimes it makes me cry when I realize it is 6:30 PM and I am expecting him to drive into the driveway, open the back door and walk in. But he doesn't.

I do not want to move. This house is home and it carries 43 years of our history.

As I wake up from the shroud of fog that has been around my shoulders and mind for the last 11 months I realize how much there is to do here.  

Jim's illness was primary for a year and now I have to catch up.

I bought a new front door this month. That's a story. For one thing, what do I know about choosing a front door, not to mention the "sticker shock" for a decent door and storm door.  I cancelled the order the first time and then re-did it. Then they came and measured. Hopefully I will have a new door by the middle of February.

I still haven't donated our old Toyota. It is sitting its usual place in front of the house. Sometimes when I drive down the block I see it and when my first thought is "Jim's home." I start to cry.  I guess its time - but I still don't want to let it go.

On he Hill of Tara, Ireland  20008
You see this is what has happened. As I wake up for the fog of first shock and grief -  like a modern day Rip Van Winkle - I know that our life together is over - "til death do you part" - and so be it - but after 57 years Jim and I are too inter-twined for me to accept that. 

I am trying to figure out how to move ahead - and keep him with me.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Moving Forward - slowly

I haven't written here since December - because it was just too difficult. The "firsts" without Jim piled up on me:
i.e. Christmas, return to California and visit to Jim's home town, our anniversary (57). These were plain hard! Lots of crying as well as bittersweet pleasure in the memories.

Since then I have begun thinking about these same days this time last year as Jim's status began to deteriorate - - - memories I hope some day to forget. I had softened some of the tougher ones by talking individually with a counselor - - until I attended my first Bereavement Group Meeting this past Tuesday afternoon.

Ten women gathered in a very comfortable and pleasant parlor at a local church education building. During the introductions all of us mentioned that we don't know where to start in re-creating our life - our new life. Even so, the first exercise the leader asked us to do was "to tell the story of your loved one's death from the onset of the last illness to the death." What the hell?

However - being an obedient group member, I dove in first and told our story -  Jim's and mine. All the way to holding Jim in my arms as he died and then dressing him in his familiar beige cashmere sweater before our family arrived to see their father/grandfather in the bed at home.

All the way through my rapid fire telling I was uncomfortable, feeling this was too personal to share with a group of strangers. 

The organizers who are the "bereavement counselors" must have information informing them this is the way to go. So far as I am concerned - it's not! It's painful. It stirred the pot of memories and sent me reeling. Upshot? I doubt I will go back. Even though I will feel sorry not to do my share of listening to everyone else's story.

But, I have learned that I need to look out for myself - and in this case I am.

The experience left me wondering - was their pre-planned agenda more important than hearing what we all said? I wish they had listened.

I would have welcomed help with moving forward - and I think that would be a wonderful help to each of the others as well.  Asking to hear the stories strikes me as seeking to satisfy the curiosity of
the organizers
- unless some of the women are just bursting to tell that story again - and again - and again.
Let me tell you something - I have struggled since March 6 to work through each day and to put up a "brave" front so people would think I was OK.  Most of those days I have been anything but OK. However the play-acting did and does help. I have journaled through a dozen notebooks, talked privately to positively helpful bereavement folks, trusted friends, my sisters and our children,  read books about "making it through", worked on the business of closing up Jim's life and our life together - - and been grateful for my storytelling work.

Although I have "sinking spells" and crying many days, after 10 and a half months I am stronger and moving ahead -- one baby step at a time.

I guess that really is progress.