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

The sign said:

Please don’t forget I love you.

It stopped me cold. I was allowing myself a short distraction while eating a late lunch, scrolling through one of my favorite pop-up shops online. In this section were graphic wall signs of sayings about love. But this sign wasn’t among those offered for sale. It was in the preview, catching my attention as I flipped through the main page. I flipped the page back up and read it again.

Please don’t forget I love you.

No, I said out loud, alone in the room. No, I won’t forget. I love you, too. But why don’t you visit me in my dreams? At least that way the days won’t seem quite so lonely.

I’ve kept busy the week since returning from my trip to Grand Rapids. There’s no doubt that I could work 24/7 and still not get it all done. My flu mostly subsided, has left a residual cough. And I admit a moment of self-indulgent pity when I awoke a few mornings soaked in sweat, reminded of how badly Keith’s sweats first hinted at the cancer to come. Well, I thought, if I have what he had, then at least we’ll be together. Then I remind myself that it really is just the flu and shame myself for indulging in this little mental melodrama.

Focus has been in short supply. It feels like I’m missing a limb, like I’m out of balance. So I find it easy to fall into distraction. Part of the issue may be technology. It’s too easy to access. So text messages come often, emails, too. And a little online shopping, though that has been reduced considerably. Retail therapy has proven to backfire when the bill comes.

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My new sleigh at Perry Road. The hill in the backyard is much steeper than this photo implies and this sled goes VERY fast! I made the run three times, each time cackling aloud like a crazy woman. But it was a blast, a cathartic release, and good exercise to boot. Anyone watching me doing this alone, however, would have thought me mad. So when I tired a bit and started taking it a bit close to some small trees, I decided it was time to give it a rest. But now that the snow has returned again after the crazy thunderstorms earlier this week, I’ll have to give it another run!
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Making Paper Memories

I made paper last Saturday at a workshop in Ann Arbor. It was a therapeutic experience to finally work with my hands again, being creative in a more tactile way. I brought rose petals from several arrangements we’d received last summer while Keith was ill. The last batch, however, was from his funeral, the only two live flower arrangements there. In Keith’s obituary, we indicated “in lieu of cut flowers, donations could be made to…” And then we indicated either the American Cancer Society or the Keith E. Fulmer Memorial Art & Design Scholarship Fund at Mott Community College.

I admit feeling an initial disappointment when first arriving at the funeral home to see Keith with only a few arrangements nearby. But we soon filled the spaces around him with photos and his own woodturned art.

Over the summer, Keith became distressed by the cut flowers that arrived occasionally, sometimes meant to honor our anniversary, or simply to cheer him, or me. But instead, as they withered away and died, they were a foreshadowing reminder of what was to come for Keith. And so when it came time for his funeral, we chose to request the charitable donations. But as I first felt pangs of disappointment for not seeing an abundance of flowers in the room, I realized that maybe that’s because the flowers were meant to support the living. Still, as I saw them wither and die over the weeks that followed, I was reminded again of Keith’s comments.

So I had saved the rosebuds from each time flowers would arrive, and let them dry by the kitchen window. I couldn’t bring myself to throw them away, so clearly representative they were of a time with Keith. I brought some of these with me to weave into the paper pulp, and by the end of the day, I almost couldn’t bring myself to stop. A little pulp remained with the rose petals still flecked throughout. I asked the instructor if I could keep it and she, of course, said yes.

As I was getting ready to leave, she asked about how Keith had died. She said she’d never realized that anger was a natural part of grieving and that she’d felt it intensely after her father had died. I told her I, too, had felt anger throughout the grieving process. She was surprised by the intensity of her own emotions. For me, I’m not always sure who I’m angry at…. the fates for bringing Keith’s illness, or at Keith for leaving me, or at myself for indulging in this self-pity. But while anger is indeed part of grief, so is the act of letting go.

So as I told the story of Keith and the illness that took him away from me, I realized it was one the first time in a long time that I could share this story without choking up, and without tears pressing against my eyes. Instead I was able to calmly tell the story, and even smile a little bit at the memories and how my life with Keith was a good one. And for that I am grateful.

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New Dream – Keith visits.
1/29/13, 8:30 am

The conversation was so real that it seemed incomprehensible that it was just a dream. Keith and I were standing near a doorway, resembling the sliding door in our home that leads to the backyard. He picked up a clipboard from the dining room table with a notepad attached to it that he asked me to hand him. He seemed to be preparing to go outside to the backyard to address some task. Although it is winter, the grass was very green, though skies were overcast and damp from rain. This parallels the actual weather which featured unusual winter thunderstorms this morning.

We talked. I knew he was just visiting from the other side. He seemed to be wearing white baggy shorts which I thought incongruous with the dark wool baggy sweater resembling one he always wore in this life. Our conversation was warm and casual, like we were catching up a little. I recall talking about how much I missed him, and mentioning some things I wanted to share. And – while I cannot now recall his exact words – I remember clearly hearing the sound of his voice, as strong as in waking life.

We moved closer to each other so it seemed like our bodies were touching in the start of an embrace. But this move led to him then standing nearer to the door opening. His free arm was outstretched towards me reaching and holding my arm. But rather than pull us closer, our hands began to slip away from each other.

“Come back”, I said. “Come back again in my dreams so we can chat.”

And as our fingers barely touched each other now, I began to awaken to the sounds of thunder and flashes of lightening outside my window, the skies opening up in another drenching downpour in this bizarre winter storm. The snow was gone and the grass showed hints of green through the faint patches of icy water in the backyard.

Keith’s photo, the one with the casual smirk on his face, now looked back at me.

“Visit me again, my sweetheart, in my dreams” I said out loud, only the puppy Lenny nearby responded with a quiet whimper.
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Lenny mugs for the camera in the new studio at Perry Road. (Photo by S.E. Fulmer Photography.)

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Peeking over the edge of the camera view, I am standing at the square near the river that runs through the center of Ekaterinburg, Russia, May 2012. Seems nowadays I am peeking over the edge of a new journey.

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Dreaming off the edge…

I woke this morning (1/4/13) with a start. My heart was still pounding from the last remembered scene in my dream. It was about 9:20 am, a little while before the alarm I’d set would go off, but about 90 minutes after I’d fallen back asleep after letting the dogs out for their morning constitution.

Although I cannot recall all the details of my dream, as with other dreams I’ve written about, I’ll try and share what I can here:

I was driving on an elevated highway heading towards a fork in the highway. I didn’t know which way I should go. Beyond the view of the two diverging ramps, all that was visible was blue sky. My speed was not in my control, and the vehicle – I think it was the truck for it felt higher off the road than my car – was moving at a very fast pace. I started to panic and reached out to both sides of the car, both hands outstretched could reach the door frames. I remember thinking “how is this possible?” I shouldn’t be able to reach both sides, am I in a covered motorcycle? No. I realized I must be both driver and passenger. As I was cruising very fast towards the split, I could finally read a green and white highway sign which said “I-75 North” and a curved arrow pointing towards the left. I remember thinking “Grab the steering wheel and turn” but when I reached for the steering wheel, it was too late and the momentum took me straight off the highway into thin air. I never hit the ground. I remember seeing it very very far away, as if falling from a high altitude airplane when the landscape below is still very abstract. It seemed to be rushing closer but remained very far away. I awoke with my heart pounding, still feeling the terror of the experience. But it wasn’t the same as a terror born of fear. It was terror from uncertainty, exhilaration, and fear of the unknown. Not fear of an impending death.

What do I think of this dream? Several things come to mind based on experiences going on in my life. First … the New Year means new directions. But I’m not there, and I am not quite sure which way to go. But I am heading there at great speed! I have committed to exploring building a new house out at Perry Road. Just the preliminary design stage first and potential zoning variances. Greg Mason is working with me on this. He had begun working with Keith on potentially renovating the farmhouse but we gave up on that due to its extremely poor condition. I also began to peek at dating websites to see if there are any understanding widowers out there in my age range who are looking for an occasional companion for friendship, dinner, a movie, maybe other shared interests. I was discouraged. But Stassia is providing some advice in this new dating style that didn’t exist the last time I was dating back in high school… in the 70s!

Another point of note is that I was alone in the car – driver and passenger were both just me, alone. Keith was not there as he had been in my previous “driving” dream. And as I shot off into the air in my vehicle, I realized I was in this liminal space – between spaces. Between control and uncontrol, between heaven and earth, between now and future, ending and beginning. It is that space when you’ve lost the momentum of the direction you were heading, but haven’t begun to fall to the ground yet.

Other memories to consider…
And one last coincidence that might have a connection: My last night in the USA before flying to Fiji the next day with the family, I was on an elevated highway, I787 which wraps around the city of Albany, NY, the family’s plane tickets on the seat next to me, the kids waiting with Grandma at the Hilton. Just a mile from the hotel, I narrowly missed being killed by a wrong-way driver on the rush-hour holiday traffic-filled highway. Following behind a gasoline tanker in the right lane, I saw him swerve and hit his brakes, and I followed suit. But then I saw the wrong-way driver heading towards me and the vehicle to my left. The errant driver hit the small truck right beside me instead, killing him in a swirl of spinning vehicles, flying parts, and eventual fire. I braked hard with my car stopping only 50 feet from where some of the wreckage finally stopped spinning. Keith and his dad were about a mile behind me in his truck and didn’t know how close I’d come. But they were stuck in the traffic for another 3 hours while police and firetrucks came. I was interviewed by police and newspaper reporters both who took my film from my camera – once I’d realized I couldn’t do anything to help the man who was dead under his car, I grabbed my camera that still contained the “going away party” photos on a roll and started taking photos of the scene realizing that it would all have to be moved to make way for the emergency vehicles (the journalist in me).

Once the police gave me the go-ahead, I attempted to make my way to the hotel. The only exit was an on-ramp being used for the emergency vehicles. One came towards me lights and sirens going, and I stopped to the side again, shaking and beginning to cry. But I then started off again and made my way to the hotel. My mother-in-law and daughters were there, but Keith and his dad would be another 2 hours stuck in the traffic. When they finally arrived, they went on about the accident and I told them how close I was. It became clear it was not my time. The film loaned to the police and the newspaper was processed and returned to me the next morning before we left for our flight. That was August 30, 1991. Flying out on the 31st, we arrived in Fiji on 9/1/91, exactly 21 years to the day from when Keith would die on 9/1/12.

Symmetry and threads in the fabric of life

So there is symmetry in this story. In my dream, I am driving on an elevated highway that feels a lot like the one on I787. But I am the only car on the road. When we left for Fiji, we were leaving behind everything that was familiar to us, embarking on a journey that was new, exhilarating and frightening at the same time. And, when I was flying back from Russia last May, after cutting my trip short to be here with Keith when he got news from his liver biopsy, I remember trying to distract myself from thinking about why I was going home on this flight from Ekaterinburg to Moscow by snapping photos out the window of the abstract landscapes below. I still have these photos in hopes of creating new artwork from them.

I’m not sure of the meaning of all of this, but it seems obvious that I am at the start of a new and unknown journey. My psyche is frightened and a bit curious and excited, too. Like the threads that weave back and forth in a great tapestry, I seem to be heading back towards another destination, with details that sometimes echo of a previous path. I mentioned to my daughter that we had family who lived to their late 90s. So if I follow suit, I may have another 45 or more years to go, another lifetime ahead of me. It saddens me that I do it without Keith. But it also means I have another life to build. I hope to make it as fulfilling as the first half that I had the privilege to build with a very special and wonderful person.

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Above: View from the Aeroflot flight from Ekaterinburg to Moscow, May 2012, after cutting the trip short to be with Keith.