surviving


Written on Tuesday, 7/31/18

I try to focus on the work at hand as we prepare the old house for sale. Even though lots of memories are evoked as we go, and Steven tackles the difficult challenges of finishing Keith’s unfinished house projects, going through collections of “stuff” inside the house, the workshop, the basement, and all around outside, I feel incredibly blessed. Although it’s taken longer, Steve’s workmanship shows and I know it’s a matter of pride – and love – in his mind, and I am forever grateful to this wonderful man who has taken on so much. To live in the shadow of Keith’s spirit can be a challenge. But today I think I found a sign that Keith was pleased.

Dane and I moved a very large 10-drawer flat file into the garage today. Drawer by drawer. Most were empty already but several were full and it was kind of a pain. But we got all the drawers moved and prepared to move the cabinet that held them. I looked back to the empty steel cabinet and there was some stuff still there, curled up against the back. A few pieces of Stassia’s, a few pieces of mine. But there was this one big piece still curled up against the back wall. I pulled it out and there it was – an impromptu angel made from overspray from a project Keith did many years ago. And in the corner, he’d painted his initials “KF” to ensure there was no doubt. Among the last pieces of family “art” to get moved out of the house. Finding it today felt like a special sign, a message of love from the spirit of Keith.

 

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Spraypaint art made by Keith when he was working with Stassia on a costume. He liked the angel he recognized and signed it in the corner. I’d completely forgotten about this until my daughter reminded me.

Friday, 7/27/18

Woke up at 4:52 am to a blazing light shining upon me. It was a huge full moon low on the horizon so that its light reached inside my bedroom. I smiled and said Happy 60th Birthday, Keith! We miss you here on this life’s plane. Hope you’re enjoying all our shenanigans from your view on the other side. ❤️

Keith taking his solo pilot flight test, upstate NY. Instructor decided we should all go to dinner in Keene, NH.

Postscript: When I awoke later in the morning daylight, I looked out the window and saw the trees and wondered how I could have seen the moon so clearly earlier. And yet, there it had been! When he passed, it was a huge blue moon (a second full moon in the month) and I always associate the strong light of the full moon as his embrace from beyond.

Traveling has a way of creating magic and expanding our vision here and beyond.

Threads of energy and connection

On a steamy hot July 4th, we floated in the waters of Sacandaga Lake in the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York. Disembodied heads peeked above the waters – me, Steve, Larry, Jean, John, Patty, Brian plus other old friends. As the waters sparkled in the sunlight, my vision shifted, seeing tendrils, threads connecting each of us, our heads, 7th chakras, energy paths from one to another, and then above. It was surreal and yet very real… I shook my head several times to try and dispel the vision, yet it persisted. The vision began to fade so I sketched it quickly in order to bring it back to further enhance in art.

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My quick sketch of the vision I had looking at my friends bobbing in the waters of Sacandaga Lake, Adirondack Mountains, upstate New York, July 4, 2018. 

Conversations while in the water, heads bobbing, voices laughing, planning, life beyond work, the family by heart and blood, community of friends planning to care for each other in a life of continued adventures, but recognizing the pains of aging… Plans began for those couples without children, then those who did have children who would not be willing/able to care for aging parents… Duties were assigned: John P as our travel planner, Jean our financial/taxes person, Larry our sommelier and meal planner, me and Brian on branding development and space design, Steve our inventor and fixer-upper…should Michael join us he would be our gardener… Patty would pave the way into retirement. We could move between locations to allow time at each place and take advantage of weather… Several months in Michigan, travel to Europe, possibly a month in Fiji in April… where else?

Aging into new adventures means making the most of life with family by blood and family by heart.

Shifting to sooner plans, travel to Newfoundland, Canada, Kelly’s home country. When could we all visit, and how? Have passports, will travel.

The view from here

As we wandered the countryside, our views throughout our week were stunning… New York Adirondacks, Vermont hills, Middlebury, countryside antique shops, farmlands… peaceful, tranquil, even energizing… Saratoga, revisiting old memories.

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A roadside antique shop in the Adirondacks.

We were watching fireworks from the baseball field across from Larry and Jean’s… the same field with the same chain link fence at home base where Keith and I hung out together with Michael, Larry, Brian and others. Standing there… Steven, Larry, Brian, Jean, me… surreal… forward, back…time seemed to cross oceans, decades, and reconnect…creating new connections. It felt powerful.

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Watching fireworks in the park with friends.

Revisiting a new friend in person

I finally caught up with Nan O’Brien-Webb in New Haven, VT. Steve was filled with trepidation; it brought up feelings of a past bad encounter with a marriage counselor. Not what I intended at all. It was exploratory for me just to see what was up with Nan’s workshops. And it was very emotional for her, too, to meet her former best friend’s wife after finding his obituary.

I no longer feel the need to have an intermediary. I see/feel connections to the spirits feeling their messages when it is important, seeing signs and recognizing them for what they are most of the time. I recognize that I have become my own intuit. Still, it was interesting to discover how others with longer experience work with this…this gift.

I sent Nan a photo of Steven with the shadow of another we saw as a hint of Keith hovering over Steve after he’d gotten the great sanding machine running back in May 2013. But then, as I scrolled through the photos, I also came across another photo that I’d taken but had ignored for my aesthetic preference of another. The non-filtered photo, however, had a clear message, one that I’d completely missed before. Taken the same day as the one with the shadow of Keith… this one showed a large “K” made from the shape of the stairs leading up to the loft.

To Nan, I wrote:

… I could feel the emotion in the room, the healing that was being accomplished, even as the doors cracked open a bit to understanding of the different lives we lead in physical and spiritual form. You’ve certainly helped me to better articulate what I always felt to be true.

…Funny thing… as I went to look for [the photo I promised], I discovered a second one – taken the same day – that had a message I’d completely missed.

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Keith oversees a sewer connection we’d been trying to get at Perry Road, only about 5-6 weeks before he passed. So I’m guessing this picture was taken around mid July 2012.

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Large flat-belted gears drive a giant 4-drum oscillating sander that Keith had  fallen in love with in the large  woodworking shop on the property at Perry Road. When he tried to get it started, the belts fell off only a few seconds after it began to run. This photo was taken in May 2013 when Steven came into my life. He too fell in love with this old machine and immediately set about to get it running, which he did!

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Another view of the  old woodworking shop taken the same day Steven got the old sander running. I noticed the sun shining in the far windows, setting off a glowing light. But I used a different camera setting for the above photo. I almost missed the real message.

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This photo was take seconds before the first one just above. In looking for the picture I’d mentioned in VT, I found this one. Notice the giant “K” at the center, formed by the structure of a stairway in front of the glowing windows. SMH! I was dumbfounded when I came across this picture last night. How could I have missed it?!

Finally, this is the image I mentioned to Nan. Intellectually, I know how it was made. But it gave us all goosebumps when we first saw it. I was sitting at an old handmade table saw, working on homework for my doctorate. Steve was literally scurrying around working on making the giant sander operational (it extends from where he’s climbing to the round wheels you see in front of the windows to the right behind the posts).

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I looked up from my studies when I heard it come to life and grabbed my phone to take this photo. The message was clear to me at that moment. Keith was VERY pleased!

As I wrote to Nan, I feel that sometimes places can hold the energy of those who came before us there. Or they at least provide us a place to connect. Sometimes I feel old Maurice Reid here, as well. He was the original owner of this woodworking shop and I feel his occasional approval (or annoyance as the case may be at the time) as we try and make improvements to the old homestead.

These are just some of the most profound memories I have from the week’s travels and the memories those moments inspired me to revisit. 

Woman in Mexican dress with hat sits in the shade of the carved pillars of the Pyramid of the Moon

Visiting the Pyramids of the Sun and Moon. ©2018 Mara Jevera Fulmer

I was feeling nostalgic, and even a bit unsettled. In early 2012, just as I was preparing to go on a Fulbright scholarship trip to Russia, and was making the circuit of presentations for my doctoral work, Apple computer was making a serious update to their MobileMe platform. They were going to be shifting to iCloud and eliminating the iWeb software that had made it so easy to produce websites and blogs.

In the midsts of the swirl of activities in the late Winter/early Spring, I managed to have the presence of mind to archive five years of blog posts and podcasts to a corner of my computer for future attention. Unfortunately, events in life took a serious twist. In summary: I went to Russia, returned early due to my husband’s preliminary Stage IV cancer diagnosis, he died on 9/1/12 and I found myself redefined as a young(ish) widow at the age of 51, I finished my doctorate (10/2014), remarried in to my second husband (12/2014), welcomed a new grandson (12/2015), and built a new home (2015-present).

Needless to say, life has not stood still.

But for some reason, a trigger happened. I felt the need to reread these old posts, pull them over my head like a warm, cozy and familiar blanket. To close my eyes and step back a bit, remind myself where I was back then. The posts generally run from early 2006 to 2011 and cover the gamut, from art exhibitions and creative musings, to reflections on travel, being present, and just some funny thoughts. Overall, I enjoyed the time spent rereading and listening to these. They simultaneously gave me a sense of wunderlust and a firm grounding, a sense of being…where I am supposed to be.

Feel free to enjoy them at your leisure. – Old Blogs & Podcasts Revisited


When a terrible disease ravages someone you love, the mourning process begins long before they finally pass on. Kübler-Ross (1969), in her study on death and dying, described five stages of grief including denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. But Kübler-Ross was initially focusing on those who were dying, and not so much on those who were dealing with personal loss of any great significance, which she later came to recognize.

These stages are not linear, either, and can occur in any order, if at all. Women tend to experience all five stages more than men. They can be cyclical, too, with two or more occurring in an almost extreme emotional roller coaster. For both the dying and the loved one, getting to the point of acceptance does not always happen at the same time. The dying often reaches the stage of acceptance before their loved ones. But if and when both reach the point of acceptance, where communication and reflection can be experienced, a more dignified death can be found.

I’d add a couple of additional stages, or at least notable elements, to the stages of pre (and post) grieving. That includes fighting to maintain control of the details in their lives. The opposite is the disruptive feeling of vulnerability when control is lost which can lead to related stages of despair and anger.

Another related stage involves trying to make order in one’s life. Especially when the world around you seems to be in chaos, small efforts to create order can take on an outsized importance. Cleaning out cupboards, putting away old records, sorting through old photos, are just a few example of how the person facing loss may attempt to build a sense of order in a life that seems otherwise out of control.

Recently, I heard this statement made by someone who is facing the inevitable loss of his longtime spouse who is in the late stages of Alzheimer’s disease. I’ve paraphrased it per my own cloudy memory.

I feel like I’m in a carnival outhouse sitting out in a field, and the circus is packing up to leave without me.

While he didn’t elaborate, he was trying to express his feelings regarding the situation he found himself in now. I’ve been thinking about this and cannot help but connect it to my own experiences and ruminations.

First and foremost, there is the overwhelming feeling of vulnerability, of literally having your pants down in a crisis, or a formidable change that is going on around you. You’re stuck. It is hard to move forward without first finishing the primary business at hand. Panic sets in and it is hard to make decisions. Yet you’re also worried about being left behind, and by the act of moving to a new location – mentally, emotionally, and physically – and the unknown that comes with that. But even more so, it is a fear of being left behind by the ominously fast progression of a disease that robs you of the one you love, again mentally, emotionally, and physically.

The carnival/circus represents fetes of apparent magic, gravity-defying acts, seemingly impossible, often nonsensical, frightening in their dangerous distortions of human entertainment, and the funhouse mirrors that twist and distort our vision of reality.

The world around you no longer makes sense and you feel vulnerable, scared, afraid of being left behind, fearing for your loved one and a future you cannot envision without them. It literally scares the shit out of you… And yet you know you have to keep moving to survive. Because that’s your role here.

Of course, the circus could also represent your loved one, the person who was the highlight of your life, with which you shared the literal stage of life, it’s bright lights, music, the comedy and drama of a life fully shared. Either way, it all seems so unfair.

Anger rushes forward. Anger at what fate has thrown you, your loved one, the cruelty of the disease. There is no preferred or better way to die of a disease. Cancer kills the body slowly while eating away at the person. Alzheimers eats away the person while leaving the body to deteriorate at a slower rate, until the parts of the brain that operate the body begin to lose their synaptic connections.

Either way, these diseases are cruel – to the loved one who suffers them, and to the lover who must endure the pain of watching, of frustrating efforts to try and overcome the diseases’ manifestations, the cruel teases of normalcy and strength that suddenly appear and then, as a wisp in the winds, they disappear to the mists that hid the light in their eyes.

Whether you want to or not, you are, and will be… the survivor. The one who will carry the stories forward until they can be shared fully with a new generation. You will be needed by others who will benefit from your wisdom, humor, insights borne of long experience. The fates have determined that your place is here…in this world…where you are still needed.

The journey along side the dying of a loved one is dark and painful. But it also has its moments to be cherished. The fleeting glimpse of a smile, a flash of humor, the small gestures that show you are still connected to this loved one. You have been chosen for the honor of being beside them on this journey to the end of this life. You, however, will stay behind, their partner only until the gates of passage open to the other side. Until death do you part.

It sucks. It hurts so badly, the pain is physical, palpable. Breath… breath… You are still alive. And they will always be with you, and waiting on the other side to greet you when your turn comes, naturally, when the fates determine it to be so. In the meantime, treasure each moment with your loved one as a gift. Soon enough, there will be only memories that you will hold onto tightly, then share with others when the right time comes.

 

Atlas Mill Pond, this tree hugs the edge of the hillside yet thrives in its strength.


Oh dear Keith, I think of you all the time… every… single… day… I ask your advice; I feel supported, if even from afar; I smile at your photo every day. I love you still, and always, for you are a major reason I am who I am today… because of the life we had together. And together, we created two beautiful children… and together…you are in the DNA of our future grandchildren. I will see in them your eyes, your smile, your dimples….even as I look at our daughters and hear your laugh.

But time has had its say, and I find that my identity has evolved. I realized this in sharp focus today, even as I had begun to feel it evolve over the past six months or more.

 

The Heron, usually the Great Blue but sometimes the White, has served as Keith’s animus to me, a reminder of his presence in winged flight. Here they are seen on the Atlas Mill Pond as I try and refocus on the new future life has planned for me.

 
When you first passed away, when you first left me and the girls, left this earth to go to the other side…the spirit world, I could see myself in only one way…lost. I was physically and emotionally in pain from losing you. My world had crumbled, and with it my entire identity had shifted… as half of a partnership that was entirely dependent upon being connected to you. Without you, I felt I was only a shadow of who I was. Because I was a widow…someone who – by definition – had lost a great love.

I still am that person who lost a great love. But I am no longer feeling like the crumbled broken woman whose wounded heart was freshly ripped open by loss. I feel stronger, capable of managing the stress of difficult situations, able to accomplish challenges with confidence rather than apology. I feel strong enough to help others who are facing difficulty, strong enough to stand up for what I know are the right steps to take in my own life in challenging situations. And strong enough to trust when the future is uncertain.

I feel strong enough to help others who are facing difficulty, strong enough to stand up for what I know are the right steps to take in my own life in challenging situations. And strong enough to trust when the future is uncertain.

I am now in a new and loving partnership, looking forward to celebrating our first wedding anniversary with Steven in two months. He is a wonderful and loving partner with whom I can see my life in balance. He provides the kindness I need to come home to, the smile in the morning, a sweet and loving hug in the evening, a supportive companion who makes me laugh when I need to stop taking myself too seriously, and a lover who calls me cutie when I need to feel pretty. And it seems that I have a role to play in his life, trusting in his talents, and supportive of his interests. I find that I can help him learn to move beyond anger and frustration, especially when these feelings seem to overwhelm him, often when accompanied by feelings of helplessness in difficult situations.

Sometimes, I think our roles make up an emotional partnership where I am the one who offers the stable view of life’s challenges and dreams and Steven offers the practical implementation of those dreams. And when conflict and distress threaten to undermine them, Steven’s frustration is balanced by my calmer pragmatism. Our life is built upon the comforting partnership of building our shared dreams. Without him, many of the dreams we share could not see practical fruition. And without me, the dreams we share might not see the supportive belief in their potential of reality.

 

September 27th this year marked the appearance of the Super Moon, a Blood Moon made red by a Full Lunar Eclipse. It created an important counter to the Blue Moon that occurred just a day before Keith passed. The universe speaks volumes while we ponder our own significance.

 
My identity has evolved. I am no longer the broken widow, a survivor of great loss who feels the hollowness and pain of your death, Keith. I know that you are still with me, and I depend upon your guidance from beyond this world. But I find that my heart is larger now than it was before. The hollowness has been filled by the recognition of the great love we shared during our long and loving marriage, a love that still grows in our children and future grandchildren that I will help nurture. My heart has grown larger to encompass a sweet love of a new partner who has joined me in this next and vital stage of my life. And the pain of your absence, Keith, has been replaced by an inner strength and mindfulness that allows me to serve others in a supportive, caring, and unconditional manner, understanding that listening goes beyond hearing the specific words said, to the words not spoken.

My identity has evolved into a woman who can meet life with an elegant strength. I am strong. I am resilient. I am loved. I do love. I do serve. And this is why I am here.

Sometimes I have to pinch myself to believe that I am really living this happy life with a lovely sweet man, and planning a new home. In the space of a blink of an eye – it seems – life has turned around.

In December, Steve and I celebrated our marriage in a small “hillbilly wedding” on the terrace behind the old woodworking shop. Surrounded by family, nervous laughter, and not just a few chattering teeth, we said our “I Do’s” – the Doctor and the Hillbilly – in a loving commitment to sharing our future together.

Married 12/13/14, Steven placed a heart-shaped log as our featured decoration for our wedding.

Married 12/13/14, Steven placed a heart-shaped log as our featured decoration for our wedding.

Although the old shop was supposed to have been renovated prior to our wedding, its aging decrepitness lent a certain rustic charm to the day. After all, we’re building anew, releasing ourselves from the pains of past suffering, yet we acknowledge the scars we may still carry, fading slowly, but undeniably there.

Our day turned out to be auspicious, too, for its date. Honestly, it wasn’t chosen because of the pattern – 12/13/14. It was chosen because that was a day that some key people said they could be there. Fortunately, others who were equally important were able to arrange their schedules in order to support us. Our vows were sweet and honest, helping to tell the story of our meeting, our courtship, and our plans for a future life together. Unlike our first marriages, we were not marrying to raise children together. We are together because we look forward to spending our lives together as companions in our golden years, loving, supportive, sharing laughter, tears, and joy.

Even more amusing, my diploma arrived just after Christmas and ironically it stated that the degree was awarded the same day – 12/13/14. An auspicious day, indeed!

Doctorate in Education, Community College Leadership Issued 12/13/14

Doctorate in Education, Community College Leadership
Issued 12/13/14

Our wedding announcement told our little story in a gently amusing way. Here’s a mash-up of the front and back.

"The Doctor & the Hillbilly"

“The Doctor & the Hillbilly”

The response was appropriate and kind. Close friends and family shared their love and warm wishes. We were touched by the sentiments, especially those from around our generation or older, ones who could relate to building a life anew for a second chapter.

And that’s what it seems to be… a new chapter in life. Never will I forget the first one, my first life with Keith. Never will I forget the love and life we shared. And never does a day go by that I don’t feel his touch deep within my heart.

The old 1840s Farmhouse is being dismantled stick by stick. The pieces will be repurposed in the new house planned for the same location. Building the next chapter of our lives.

The old 1840s Farmhouse is being dismantled stick by stick. The pieces will be repurposed in the new house planned for the same location. Building the next chapter of our lives.

But as I move forward, building a new life with Steven, we take down the old… with plans to rebuild it, adapt it to new experiences yet to come. I pinch myself still. New career opportunities, new husband, new plans to build a life together… and the promise of a future watching our respective children raise their own families, building their own lives. I want to be a part of all that, and so does Steven. Together we can share in that joy. I acknowledge the guardian angels who have guided us towards each other, giving us the opportunity to share a second chance at love… sharing the next stage in life with a loving companion.

The mists rolled over the fields below our property.

The mists rolled over the fields below our property during our wedding, 12/13/14. The only music was the sounds of laughter and the soft ringing of the wind chimes on the hill.

I feel truly blessed.

 

Wedding photos by S.E. Fulmer Photography © 2014.

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