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