Resolutionary Road

January 1, 2022

It’s been a long time since I picked up my digital pen to write a post for this grief blog.  It certainly isn’t because life is now all kittens and yarn (for any of us!) but mostly because I had lost my thread. Of yarn? More like some prickly, slightly abrasive twine!  Now retired, I feel compelled to pick it up again to share thoughts on this complicated and sometimes puzzling journey.

As we kick 2021 out the door and try desperately to bar the windows, many of us look at this freshly minted New Year as another opportunity, another chance to do (or feel) better.  I am also cautiously hopeful.

And although the rough barbs of grief have blessedly dulled over the past five years, the nubs still catch occasionally on my pantlegs.  

Moving to Virginia more than two years ago was my way of trying to jumpstart a fresh life.  It has helped in many ways.  I am not surrounded by the tangible memories that my husband and I had built together, and now live closer to my siblings.  But I’m self-aware enough to know you can’t shut out feelings like some sort of religious zealot knocking on the door with handfuls of gospel tracts.

A very wise and helpful friend of mine once shared a mantra she espouses to help get through her days, and I have tried my best to adopt it.

“Before you go to bed, think of three things that happened during the day that you are grateful for.  They do not have to be big things.  Then, when you wake up, say to God or to the universe, “Help me, help me, help me.”

So, I attempt to do this when I am mindful.  Last night as I headed to bed well before the finale of New Year’s Eve, I lay in bed and thought, “I have a nice home.  I took a walk today with family and friends in the sunshine.  My thumbs (in the early stages of arthritis) are not bothering me.”

I woke quite early today to rain pelting the window nearest my bed.  I had left it cracked open since it’s been so unseasonably warm in Virginia this December.  I listened to the water hitting the panes for a long time and soon joined along with my own slow-moving waterworks, keenly missing my husband’s warm presence still.  But then I wiped the tears away and mentally hoisted up my big girl pants to complete the other half of the mantra. Given the day, they could also be construed as resolutions, but what is there to lose?

 “Help me to be a better person.  Help me to embrace life, instead of approaching it as something to be endured.  Help me get through this new year feeling more grateful for what I have instead of dwelling on what I have lost.”

James’ Coat

It’s a funny thing about loss.

Sometimes our loved ones enter our dreams unannounced in various ways, but other times when we want to see them in our dreams – nothing.

I have had my fair share of dreams early on after James died, that he had not actually died and it was all a big mistake. The temporary relief that would wash over me like a cool breeze, was far outweighed by the dark cloud of sadness that confronted me upon awakening.

Since it’s been 4 years now, I’m not surprised that he does not visit me in my dreams – as much as I wished he would. However, earlier this week I had a dream about his coats.

Is all that we see or seem
But a dream within a dream?

Edgar Allan Poe

In my dream, I had not yet gotten rid of all of his belongings. His coats were hanging in front of me, all in a row. It was a sharp and lucid dream. His favorite coat, an old brown, Carhartt canvas jacket, was front and center. It was the one he wore the most. I grabbed it in my dream and buried my face into it and could still smell him on the coat. I awoke with such sadness, but tried my best to push it aside. I tramped downstairs, made my coffee and got on with my day.

But the dream won’t leave me this week. It haunts me at every turn like a fresh wound. What the hell? I can’t shake it. My rational mind knows that with Covid, and increased, prolonged isolation, we are all battling a mild depression. Add the merry-go-round of grief and it’s a perfectly blended cocktail of self-pity and hopelessness.

A queen’s bed

Some years back when James and I had purchased our lakeside dream home, we decided to splurge on a new bedroom set.

When he met me, I was still using the dresser my parents had bought for me when I was in high school, and then we used his late parent’s set. It was one of those blonde wood sets, and not really my taste. Our new set was very ornate: think Italian Renaissance/bordello. I liked to think even the very picky Borgias would have approved! And since it took a few years to pay off, I was not going to part with it easily once I moved.

Fast forward to my new life here in Virginia where I have a much smaller house. When the movers delivered my bedroom set from the storage unit, it quickly became apparent my king-sized bed, with the lush leather padded headboard, would not fit up the narrow stairs of my foursquare, never mind in my tiny new bedroom.


So I found myself shopping for a queen mattress set. I settled on a simple bed frame – not ornate but that was OK in my new world order where “bordello” or anything even remotely sexy in connotation would never be the order of the day. I managed to get the other bedroom pieces crammed into my room and into the guest room. Sometimes, the fecund lushness of the pieces seem to mock my solitary existence, but screw it.

As I was laying in bed this morning, I was thinking about how I went from a king to a queen – thanks to my husband’s untimely death (is there a timely one?). No longer do I roll over to see my husband, already awake and smiling at me (not sure if that was due to fondness…my snoring or both).

So this morning as I am want to do, I shed a few tears thinking about where my life has brought me since he died. My rational mind nibbles at me like a rat: “You are a lucky girl!” Lucky to have a nice home in a wonderful new town. Lucky to have family nearby. Lucky to be starting a new job next week, after almost a year of unemployment.

But my emotions (I see these as a soft, fuzzy hamster) keep me pining for that king bed and the life it once represented as a married woman. A person who used to wake up with the self-satisfied assurance that she would not be alone. Never alone.


A revival meeting

The oldest church in Staunton may arguably be one of the most awe-inspiring in the city.

I’m talking about Trinity Episcopal Church, which sits gracefully on the edge of the downtown area offering a respite from the bustle (as if there were any) from the shops and restaurants anchoring my Virginia hometown.

I’d been meaning to tour the inner sanctum of the church for any months, mainly to see the famous Louis Comfort Tiffany stained glass windows from the inside out. They serve as a perfect compliment to the Gothic Revival styled edifice that is chock full of town history and is on the National Register of Historic Places. Visiting around service hours is tricky though – you have to stop by during a handful of afternoon hours during the week to find the chapel open. On the day we stopped, the discreet sign outside the door directed us to check into the rectory to gain entrance if the doors were locked (which we did).

Once in the rectory, which to me had that smell peculiar only to churches – dusty hymnals – we were kindly greeted by the music director. Although busy prepping for the impending Christmas performances, she happily led us back to the chapel, chatting companionably about her work and the impending holiday concerts.

Once you enter the chapel you can’t help but be hushed by its beauty, which includes a gorgeous vaulted ceiling, wooden struts spanning their lofty curves towards the sky like the ribs of some sort of celestial whale. Gothic Revival architecture dates back to the 1700’s, made popular in England and carried over to the United States. It’s a fanciful, romantic architectural style that had lost its popularity as time went on.

The original church (there have been three on this West Beverly Street site) was built in 1746 and originally named Augusta Parish. The grounds also boast the city’s first cemetery. Eventually, they ran out of space and Thornrose Cemetery became the place to be (well, in the hereafter). According to the church website, there are at least 17 soldiers from the American  Revolutionary War buried on the grounds.

 In May 1781, the Virginia General Assembly fled Monticello ahead of advancing British troops, and landed in Staunton, where they set up the assembly in Augusta Parish Church, from June 7 to June 23 of that same year.

The Episcopal Church has always been the epicenter of the city. Local gentry went there to pray and it served as a community hub. During the Civil War, students and professors congregated at the current church (built in 1855) forming a school of sorts.

But back to those gorgeous windows. Of the 13 opalescent-style windows, 12 are Tiffany. Visitors will note the varying styles right away. Some have geometric shapes, some host depictions of saints and others bucolic, pastoral scenes (my personal favorite). Over the years, donor families have born the brunt of the cost for these exquisite pieces of art glass.

Having been raised Southern Baptist, I’ve always been impressed by religions which honor their beliefs with gorgeous, earthly houses of worship. That was never the way of my youth. Services I attended in the 1960’s and ’70’s were held in austere, functional buildings. The fire and brimstone that rained upon my young soul from the pulpit always left me feeling unworthy and not quite knowing why.

As a non-religious but spiritual adult, perhaps that’s why I feel drawn to unnatural wonders such as Trinity Episcopal Church. I can admire its obvious beauty and historical importance without any religious strictures or emotional baggage attached. It can just be.




This post may cause a sleigh-full of side effects

It’s a fact of life that Death haunts us most around the holidays.

The loss of loved ones swirl around our everyday thoughts, landing indiscriminately at odd, inopportune times. There are few people in my circle of friends and family who do not struggle to some degree with the holidays, to push past grief  phantoms wearing chains that even Marley’s ghost would envy.

While watching TV recently, I found myself feeling jealous of a couple in one of those pharmaceutical commercials. You know the type I mean – happy, good looking people in some exotic vacation location who had struggled and overcome some chronic condition like scaly skin. Jesus – what’s wrong with me? I know this misplaced envy is not just about the actors skipping hand in hand across my television screen. It galls me that they can take a pill to improve their unhappy condition.

After my husband died a few years ago, I went on a mild antidepressant. I think they are helpful for many people. For me, though, they led to incredibly vivid dreams so realistic and involved I was left exhausted in the morning, and fearful of the next night’s sleep.  I weaned off of them, and went back to my simpler, albeit still very vivid dreams.

I made a decision last year to try and break my Groundhog Day cycle of unhappiness through more drastic means, and so moved to another part of the country this past summer. I knew intellectually I could not outrun grief. But I will say the change of scenery has helped me. (Visit:  I am trying to make new friends and connections, while still pining for old friends left behind in New England. Nothing is perfect.

But during the holidays, my resolve to keep at my daily mantra to count my blessings and find joy in my new town wear thin. The specter of Death still comes a’knockin’, having received my forwarding address.

“I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future!” Scrooge repeated, as he scrambled out of bed. “The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. Oh Jacob Marley! Heaven, and the Christmas Time be praised for this! I say it on my knees, old Jacob; on my knees!” A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens

And so this holiday season I watch with milder pangs as couples stroll down the beautiful main street of my Currier and Ives Virginia town – making plans, buying gifts, snuggling close to ward off the cold. I don’t wish to “drive a stake of holly through their hearts” to paraphrase Scrooge in the Dickens classic. I know moving forward does not mean forgetting. We just juggle the past with the present, and struggle to find that livable balance.

Life is made of ever so many partings welded together. Charles Dickens

Heart transplant

They say (whoever they are/is) the grief stricken should wait at least a year before making any life-changing decisions. I agree with that thought as long as finances are not in play that would hasten someone’s decision to say, downsize and sell the family home.

My time these past few months has been eaten up with listing and selling the home James and I purchased about 4 years ago. We only had a short time here together and were just getting into a rhythm which frankly, was true of our marriage as well. We’d started to work out the kinks and make peace with the minor annoyances that crop up in any committed relationship (emphasis on committed!).

About a year ago my sister Mary and I made a pinky swear to move to a smallish town in Virginia once we sold our homes. My house has sold almost immediately, and I am left swirling with even more decisions such as finding an apartment while I house hunt, where to store a house full of belongings and a million small details in between.

Mary and her husband live in rural Tennessee and may have a long slog getting to the home sale finish line. My journey has started. UGH! I have decidedly mixed emotions about leaving New England for the Shenandoah Valley. My heart is here with my friends, but I also miss being near my immediate family and look forward to more time with them.

I’ve already learned a butt-ful in a short amount of time about the ins and (mostly) outs of planning a move and so will on occasion, share a few tips I hope others find useful. Perhaps like me, there are late night trawlers of Google search on topics such as: “Should I get a storage unit that is climate controlled or not spend the extra dough?

“Cinder block or metal storage unit walls – which is better?”

I’m also leaving an area where I could easily call 40 people to drop over for a dance party, to move to a town where I know exactly one person – my Virginia realtor. This should make for good blog fodder, right?



In memorial

A few Memorial Day’s back I picked up the phone to hear my sister Anna greet me cheerily with, “happy dead person’s day!”

The opener totally resonated with me and my macabre sense of humor.  Anna, who has since passed, also had a no-nonsense, Charles Adams sensibility to life and death.

I don’t mean to dilute or insult the symbolism of Memorial Day.  We have lost so many who have served our country on foreign soils and many who are serving still and wait at the ready if we need them.

I’ve been thinking of my dad today, a man who served in “the big one” WWII.  His Army unit famously crossed the Bridge at Remagen before it collapsed into the Rhine in the closing weeks of that war.

Like most vets of that generation (and maybe most generations) he did not talk about his time there, but we all knew it impacted and chipped his psyche in a way we could never relate to.  He came back from Germany to his Kentucky coal mining community a bit emotionally damaged but buried it underneath the constraints of the time.  He married, fathered five children, and pioneered a better life in New England.  Over the years and especially after retirement, his demons or whatever he had tamped down for decades, would surface and we would rally around to ensure he was safe until the episode passed.

My parents now lie in a veteran’s cemetery in Florida.  My mom went first, and I remember her graveside ceremony clearly.  There is a tower there that plays military-themed chimes on the beautiful cemetery property.  As they lowered her into the ground, “Anchors Aweigh” chimed in the distance.  I had smiled to myself over that.  Again, that macabre sense of humor surfacing to rescue me from the mire of sadness such occasions bring.

Laughing gas

I had cause to have a molar extracted recently and it wasn’t pretty.

With age comes the encroachment of our body parts starting to show wear and tear.  However, teeth have always been especially problematic for me.

When I was very young my baby teeth grew in black and rotted.  I still don’t know exactly why that happened.  One sister speculated it was the “vitamins” they had pregnant women take back in the ’60’s when my mother was carrying me.  I mean, I surely was not the lone first grader spitting tobacco juice out on the playground gravel.

In any case, I had to have all of my teeth extracted at one sitting so my adult teeth could come in.  I still remember that “rubber ball” smell of the gas mask they put over my face as the procedure began – but blessedly not much else.

Fast forward to last week when I had to have a tooth extracted to make way for an implant.  Thinking perhaps of that time 50 years prior, I timidly asked if I could get gas.

“Oh yes, we can give you gas and Novocaine,” the oral surgeon’s assistant assured me.

Sweet!  This will be easy, I thought.

Early into the procedure it became clear all was not sweet, but had instead turned as sour as sauerkraut.

“Well, you have a nasty infection underneath your tooth and I’m afraid the Novocaine won’t touch it,” my oral surgeon, Captain Obvious stated, as my writhing turned into full-fledged muffled screams of pain and panic.

I’m sure it was actually a short time that I experienced such pain, but as is true in any unpleasant instance, it seemed to go on and on.  Tears began to leak out of my eyes and since I was reclined, pool into my ears.

The tears were only in part due to the pain.  I was mortified that I had screamed and made a fuss.  I know clinically the pain was bad, but as an adult, was embarrassed by my lack of stoicism.

Also, whenever I face trauma now, I tend to get upset because James is no longer here to help me.  I started to think about that while in the dental BarcaLounger and cried even more.  In my past life, he would be there, and has even sat with me while I’ve had some minor albeit painful procedure done.  I’d look at him and since he was not wincing or showing distress, take my cue that it was going to be OK.

My life is now like that broken tooth.  I worry it with my tongue.  I chew around it, and try not to fully engage it.  It will never be the same.  And when I feel like I might be able to start acting like my old normal self, the hidden infection that is grief and loss, resurfaces to remind me painfully, that it is not.



Do’s and dont’s when addressing grief

Now that we’ve managed to muddle through Valentine’s Day for all of you happy Hallmark people, I’d like to get back to our regularly scheduled programming.

I don’t normally “cheap out” on my posts but this recent article by David Pogue featured in The New York Times echoes many of the things I’ve been saying or felt these past few years.

What to Say (and What Not to Say) to Someone Whose Grieving.