Monday, June 30, 2014

Pilgrimage - June 30, 2014

One year ago today, my beloved Jim's struggle ended as he completed his life among us. There's something about a one-year anniversary; it seems somehow final in a new way. Until today, I could, in my mind, remember that, "One year ago today..." Now I can no longer do that, and in some way he has gone much further from life than he was even yesterday.

I knew this from when my mom died, and so had planned a pilgrimage of sorts: a visit to a place we loved to scatter some of his ashes, with stops at a few places that held memories of time we had spent together. It was very sad, but very healing. Jim gave me many things during our too-short time together, but other than his love the best gifts were the gifts of places. I have loved Oregon since I first set foot here in the early '70s, and Jim introduced me to places that delighted me - and it gave him joy to see how eagerly I embraced their beauty.

Before beginning my journey - but also part of my pilgrimage - I visited the care home where Jim spent the last 21 months of his life. I took popsicles for the staff and residents - something I had done whenever we had a forecast of hot weather - and a bouquet of sunflowers. The staff there took such good care of Jim - and of me - that they will always be a big part of my precious memories, and I hope I will always remember to honor them in some way.

After leaving there, I stopped at the cemetery, to leave flowers on his grave - a grave that looks as if it's been there much longer than it has. It takes so little time for weathering in our Portland climate, and, oddly, the permanence of it is far less distressing to me than was the bright marble against the newly-placed sod of the first weeks.

My day's journey then began in earnest, as I pointed my car West toward the magnificent Oregon Coast. From our earliest days as a couple, Barview Jetty County Park was our go-to place for a quick, unplanned getaway. We had weathered storms there - personal and weather-related - had watched in awe as the Jetty was reinforced several years ago, and loved to watch the sea crash on the rocks below us. It is there that I left a portion of Jim's ashes - there on the rocks, since it's far too dangerous to get too close to the water. I know that with the next high tide or the next storm, those precious bits of his mortal self will wash into the ocean he loved.

I left there and drove north a few miles to Flamingo Jim's - one of our never-to-be-missed destinations on the Coast. They have everything from t-shirts to knick-knacks, not all flamingo related, but just a fun place to shop and pick up little odds and ends for ourselves and the grandkids.

I next headed back southwest toward Cape Meares Lighthouse. We had only been there together once, but had planned to visit it again someday. It's a beautiful lighthouse and boasted an historic lens that was shipped from Paris to Oregon in 1888. Sadly, two young men fired shots at it, breaking it and causing extensive and expensive damage to it shortly before Jim & I visited it April, 2010. I was glad to see it's since been repaired. Jim had been really upset by the vandalism, and I know he would have been happy knowing that it was whole again.

My final destination was Munson Creek Falls, about 6 miles south of Tillamook. This was a place we discovered by accident, and requires a two-mile drive down a pot-holed road, and then a quarter-mile walk back to the falls - but so worth it! I was very aware of Jim there - remembering every step we had taken, every place we stopped to gaze at the beauty of this hidden spot. It's a quiet, peaceful place, and I'm so glad I decided to make the stop.

From there, I drove back to Tillamook to get a coffee for the road home. We drove through the Coast Range so many times that I almost think I could do it with my eyes closed. Except that the road is very curvy, mostly only two lanes, and subject to rockslides! It's also a lovely drive and I never tire of it.

And so, the hour approaches when Jim slipped away from his pain and confusion, but never, ever from my love. It feels as if I'm saying goodbye again as this year ends. I can't help thinking of all the things I've done that he would have enjoyed, but I believe in some way that I don't really understand he's been with me on this journey - not just today, but all the days of these twelve months.

"We are stardust, we are golden; we are billion year old carbon..."

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

April 29, 2011

I opened my eyes. Eight o'clock! Where was Jim with my morning cup of coffee? He never let me sleep this late, and since I'd fallen from his truck four days ago, he was especially solicitous, wanting to know how I was feeling, if I'd slept well, was I in pain.

I listened. No noises from downstairs. I couldn't wait in bed; I needed to move my body, to go to the bathroom. Slowly and painfully, I got out of bed. From the top of the stairs, I could tell it was too dark, so I carefully, one step at a time, descended.

As I entered the kitchen, there was no odor of coffee. The flamingo light, the light that Jim turned on each evening at dark and turned off when he set the coffee up before coming to bed - the flamingo light was still on. The family room was dark, the t.v. was on, an infomercial was playing.

Something was wrong, really wrong.

I turned on the light, saw Jim sitting on the sofa. He looked at me and said, "Mike and I are in trouble." I asked what had happened, and he said, "This train has drugs on it."

"What train, honey?"

"This train Mike and I are on, coming back from Mexico. There are drugs on it, and we're going to be arrested."

"Jim," I said, "you're having a dream. You're here, at home, with me. Wake up, honey."

"No," he said, showing a flash of anger. "I know where I am. I'm on a train with Mike. We're in Mexico and we're in trouble."

I called 911. "There's something wrong with my husband. He's not making sense, he's not waking up. Please help me!"

And my life, my world, changed forever. Three years ago today.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Baby steps

The day before New Year's Eve marked six months since Jim died. I'm still in that phase of "... a year ago, we ..." and I assume that will continue for six months more.

Thanks to my dear family, I made it through the holidays without too much trouble or too many breakdowns. It was hard, of course, and there were days that I honestly didn't think I could put one foot in front of the other. But I did, and I continue to do so.

Christmas was difficult mainly in anticipation and in retrospect. The day itself was filled with watching the grandkids open gifts, lots of laughter and fun, and a delicious meal with my sister and brother-in-law, to which I was accompanied by my oldest son.

Decorations in my home were muted. Jim & I had a tradition (that he first participated in very reluctantly!) of having family and friends over to decorate. This year, I had a few lights and a rosemary bush, which managed to look festive - almost in spite of me. I had done most of my shopping throughout the year, so there was no real rush to get things done "in time," and I resumed making Christmas cookies - which I had foregone last year - with the help of my two local grandkids. I think I will try to make that a new tradition - including them - since I think it's important to remember and honor the past while moving ahead with what feels right for my future.
Addison and Ada take roses to Grandpa.

Drew singing Christmas songs for Grandpa.
The week before Christmas, my granddaughter accompanied me to Jim's grave to lay a wreath and sing Christmas songs, and the Monday before, Jim's granddaughter and my grandson went with me to take roses to him. I feel so fortunate that they were happy and willing participants in this activity, and I like to think that Jim was looking on with the special smile and tenderness that he reserved for those he loved.

In retrospect, although I had a wonderful Christmas, received a few delightful gifts - more, really, than I wanted or needed - and treasure each memory, there has been a keen sense of not having that special gift from that special person. Jim always paid attention throughout the year to my passing comments or things that he thought I would enjoy doing or having, and my gifts from him always reflected that. It is, I suppose, the universal loss for the one who is left behind. And, of course, I missed surprising him with carefully chosen gifts.

So, the year in which my beloved last lived has ended. There are new things ahead, and I find that I'm feeling more anticipation for what the year might bring than I was even a few days ago. I fully expect to continue to have both good days and bad, and I'm sure that grief will continue to sneak up on me from time to time - as it did when I sat down to write this - but I also know that I was blessed to be loved by a wonderful man, and that knowledge sustains me every day.