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. 

Oh that sound…that sound.

A cacophonic symphony of frogs, birds, and forest rises from the green lush view outside my window at early dawn.

My mind drifts upon the fog back to a distant rainforest, the sounds carrying upon the light breeze of memory. The cool damp night air grips my lungs, my shoulders, my skin. It reluctantly gives weigh (sic) as its foggy embrace lets go slowly from the deep green blanket unfurling from a long winter’s sleep, released in a tsunami of sound and fragrant damp spring. I sigh.

That sound…that sound…

It fills my ears with nature’s symphony, as I dream of another place and time.

The cool moistness of the air fills my lungs and I breath it in deeply, grateful for the damp balm as it coats my airways, and soothes my soul.

The cool damp music of the early morn will soon give way to an incessant red heat, of this I am certain.

But for now, I travel back to that other place as I pull the blanket to my shoulders, made heavier by the damp night air, an embrace from beyond the veil, a fog whose feathery tendrils drift across the lush green landscape.

That sound…that sound…

Oh don’t leave me…

that sound…



Written Wednesday, May 16, 2018


Bedroom in new home

“Are you done grieving?” It wasn’t a question for me. It was asked of my father by a recent friend. She asked my dad as they shared lunch and talked about the new house we’ve been building and what she’d seen.

Later, Dad shared the question with me and it got me thinking about it. I answered him quickly at first: “Does anyone ever stop grieving?”

He mentioned his reaction to hearing the song: “You’ll never walk alone” from Carousel. It had been a favorite of my mother’s. And just a week before she died, the last time we heard her say anything, she sang some of it when a visitor – a complete stranger to my mother – asked her in her slumber if she had ever heard the song. As the visitor began to sing the first few words, my mother began to sing with her.

When it came on the radio, out of the blue, as he got to an intersection he began to cry. Just like that. No warning. It just hit him, now 18 months later. Does anyone ever stop grieving? No, I said to dad. We just begin to change the way we respond to the memories, the triggers. We get to the point where we can smile and sigh, rather than cry. It can take awhile.

We just begin to change the way we respond to the memories, the triggers. We get to the point where we can smile and sigh, rather than cry. It can take awhile.

Even now, for me, five and a half years after Keith passed, there are times when that inevitable moment stops my breath. A song, a number, a phrase, a space, a memory… and I have to pause for a moment, take it in, reflect, and consider the possibility – is this a message?Pay attention, I tell myself. He’s still there, just on the other side of the veil. He’s still with you as real as the bearded little man laying beside me now. There are times when I still feel his touch, a gentle one on the shoulder, a soft caress to the cheek as if a kiss made of air.

Sunset over snowy field and woodsThe triggers still come, a song I hadn’t heard in awhile played recently and I had to stop and listen and nod. “I will wait, I will wait for you…” sang Mumford & Sons. The song had just been released the last summer Keith was alive. I had put it on the playlist that became the soundtrack of the summer. “You can’t let me down now” sang Bonnie Raitt in another soulful tune that filled me with guilt and sadness for not having saved Keith from the pain he endured. Then there was “Owner of a Lonely Heart” by Yes, a song that came out the year Keith and I were able to see them play live in concert.

These tunes and several others cause the air to slip out from my lungs momentarily, my heart to tighten in my chest. The difference now is that they don’t make me cry like they once did. The tightness lets go quicker and a soft smile slowly curves the corners of my mouth and I breath again, lovingly touched by the soul of my deepest connection in the spirit world.

There are times when I may also feel a bit irrational, where anxiety steps up and clenches my nerves tightly. Last fall I had been asked about going to a conference this winter. It was one that I had attended in March 2012 and co-presented with Ferris doctoral students along with the then president of the college where I work. It was in Philadelphia and I’d wanted Keith to join me but he couldn’t. He hadn’t been feeling all that well and felt the pressure of some work he needed to do. I wasn’t happy about his not feeling well, this uncured bronchitis or whatever it was. But he clearly didn’t have the energy to travel so I backed off. The conference, however, has somehow been cast in my mind as the “beginning of the end” for Keith.

So it was with a sudden attack of anxiety that I couldn’t immediately bring myself to register for this event when asked last October. Steven had had a health scare around the same time and I had a sudden feeling of deja vu, a path I didn’t want to travel twice in six years. Fortunately for Steven, the potential for liver problems was caught early enough and has led to him cutting way back on his alcohol intake and it has made a noticeable difference.

I had a sudden feeling of deja vu, a path I didn’t want to travel twice in six years.

Still, though the moment had passed, the anxiety over the association between this conference and losing a husband remained. Irrational, yes. But real enough that I put it off while still watching the deadline for the early bird registration. So when the moment came this week in a meeting with the VP to discuss conference travel, I was relieved when she supported my attending a different conference, one that would take place in Austin, Texas at the end of May. I would plan to take Steven so he could visit with his son, and I’d lead a contingent of faculty to the conference. It looked like something I could sincerely enjoy doing. The anxiety slipped away and replaced by a sense of giddy relief.

But then Dad mentioned the question asked by his lady friend: “Are you done grieving?” and I couldn’t stop thinking about it.

The answer is: No. But life still moves forward and we must go with it, or risk losing the opportunity to live the life we’ve been blessed with to the fullest.

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Pumpkins grow in spite of my lack of attention.
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Last year, after my husband Keith’s passing, I made a few efforts to try and create normalcy, or at the very least offer the pretense of bringing it about. I bought a pumpkin and put it out by the front door. I bought some colorful gourds and put them in a bowl on my dining room table. And I tried to keep up with all the vegetables that were still coming in from the crop share I’d joined earlier in the year.

But as Autumn brought the chilled promise of winter, and the leaves began to change and pile up outside my door, the fact that I was facing the season alone became palpable. The pumpkin out front began to rot in place at the corner of the front garden, and I tossed a couple of the gourds into a hole Lenny had dug outside my backdoor when they began to mold. When a small baking pumpkin began to rot before I could cook it, I couldn’t be bothered taking it out to the trash in the cold dark winter. Instead, it joined the gourds in the hole out back.

Imagine my delight when Spring came and seedlings began to sprout. Little had I known that these would become magic seeds. Like a horizontal version of Jack in the Beanstalk, the plants began to grow – out in the front garden, and even more out my back door.

It took months before any fruit began to show on the plant out front, while the backyard began to look like a scene from Jurassic Park as the plants multiplied, sprouted fruit, and crept quickly across my patio and over my fence gate. It quickly became clear that it was more than one kind of plant. Lo and behold, several kinds of gourds became apparent, and two shapes of small pumpkins. The kids began to pay attention, teasing me on my gardening approach, and claiming their own pumpkin from the patch.

The whole situation was rather amusing, even as we would gently move the giant plants tendrils back and forth when mowing the lawn or trying to weed the overgrowth of morning glories tried to take over. But apparently my utility company was less than amused, especially when access to the meter became nearly impossible. A letter came in the mail indicating they had estimated my bill rather than do an actual reading due to lack of access from “overgrown weeds” around the meter.

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More abundance makes its way to my Jurassic Park garden.
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I kept the letter out so I could see it when I walked through the living room, shaking my head in amusement. But finally I relented and decided to take my cutters to the mass of weeds that had overtaken the fence gate, even the pumpkins. Then I took on the overgrown bushes around the airconditioning unit. In between, I took a break. But not to rest, but to refocus.

Inside the house was a similar tangle of overgrown brush, but in the form of files and papers. These created a palpable weight upon my heart and mind. They needed filing, put away. As I moved through this pile, I expanded my reach and took on files of Keith’s old business, then moved on to his final papers, the will, his death certificate, and finally adding to the pile… his birth certificate. There it was… all neatly put away in a file box ready for storage. I breathed a deep long sigh. Life in a box. Well, not really. But it seemed that way… full circle… life… death… birth.

Inside, as the piles inside were cleared away, I began to see space in the room, in my file cabinets, on the floor and the weight of their presence, and their meaning began to fade. Outside, as the piles of debris were packed into the yardwaste bags and dragged to the curb, the sun began to shine through the leaves and branches to reach the cool mossy ground. I was tired and sore, but it was the kind of feeling that came from a day of hard work and accomplishments.

I had succeeded in making room in my house by packing up some of the weight of the past… In my garden, I had cleaned out the overgrown brush around my fence gate making room for it to open more easily, for me to become more open to whatever may come into my life. And at the same time, I delightfully celebrated the gifts of abundance that had grown in spite of my lack of careful tending. It seems like an interesting metaphor for me…

Life goes on. You just have to make room and be open to letting it happen.

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My first fall harvest.

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Sometimes angels come when you really need them. They’re not always in the form you might expect, nor does their form always remain constant. Yet I have seen them recently, a brilliant smile that says I’m here if you need me, a flash of hope for young futures full of promise. The shedding of unplanned tears when a damn bursts, complete and generous patience from a stranger – now new friend – who feels your pain.

There were joyful noises emerging from the workshop this weekend at Perry Road. They were not without a few tears of grief. But the spirit of Keith was so strong it was like he was in the room, providing pointers, guidance, and not least a bit of wise-ass humor. While two of Keith’s closest woodturning buddies took on the task of dismantling the giant 1870s-era band saw, a crescent moon hung over the sky as the sun set deep on the horizon. The cheshire grin hung brightly over the shop and the hillside, reflecting off the ponds below. It seemed that silly grin shining through the bare trees, witnessed the laughter and goodnatured ribbing going on inside as the guys tried to break down the 2000 lb machine into smaller less dangerous pieces.

Yet every now and then, as it seemed like they were about to push the limits of safety, and shorten their AARP memberships, it felt like there was a virtual tap on my shoulder and I would feel compelled to suggest a safer approach. Maybe take off the 20 ft blade? How about removing the 2 giant wheels? Yes, that 8-blade dado attached to the same massive motor probably could come off, too. Piece by piece, the beast was carefully disassembled and its parts laid out where they could be recovered again for the trip to Tawas.

All the while that this was going on, there seemed to be energetic angels in the form of two of my students who had cheerfully volunteered to assist in this endeavor. One young lady, one young man, they each drew from a fountain of youthful strength and goodnatured attitudes that kept up with the joyful noises emerging from around the workshop. Loading all of the woodturning lumber into the 14-ft U-Haul, this was a thankless task as the lumber was in odd shaped chunks that only nature could endure. And every now and then, but especially at the end, they would stop and help with the big cast iron beast that the old guys were trying to move.

It wasn’t easy. But it took all four of them to finally manage to move the giant iron horse-shoe that was left after the rest of the pieces were removed, and shimmy it over to the tailgate of the U-Haul before tipping it into the truck. Before long, it was wedged in tight and packed around with all the lumber, ready to make its trip up north for refurbishing and reassembly. We all sighed in collective relief and shared a few more laughs as I reinforced that it could not be returned and all pieces attached to that beast must go with it!

The week had not been so good up until then. I’m not entirely sure I can put my finger on it. But it began early in the week. Maybe the fact that it was the week before Thanksgiving, a holiday that Keith always seemed to look forward to, getting the chance to show off how he could deep fry a turkey. That was a somewhat new tradition from only the past few years. But it had worked out so I could have the oven for other things, and it tasted good, too! But this year obviously things would be different.

Maybe it was my suffering lack of sleep. I haven’t yet found a way to get to sleep much before 2 am, and in the last few weeks, it has slipped to 3 or even 4 am at which point I know my day will be less than productive.

Or, maybe it was the combination of dealing with the mid-term stresses of students, or being reminded of how fragile life is by the absence of another student due to her mom’s brain cancer. Or, dealing with the banks on matters related to Keith’s accounts. Or reminiscing during a meeting with one of Keith’s best clients, an interior designer who came to the house upon my request to talk about remodeling bathrooms and the kitchen so that I could enjoy them, but also be ready if I ever want to sell the house. Or even the unnerving apprehension about the visit by Keith’s woodturning buddies. This was to be the first real sale of any of Keith’s personal effects and at one point I almost chickened out before they had even arrived. I wasn’t sure I’d be ready to deal with it, or them.

As it turns out, they were as nervous as I was. So was the interior designer. It seems that they were all mourning, too, and to come here, to Keith’s house, or Keith’s shop was hard for them, too. More than once, I could hear the crack of an unsteady voice that wasn’t mine, or see the reflection of tears barely being held back. It was comforting, in a way, to know that I shared Keith with so many others who cared for him very deeply. And here they were, moving through their own pain, to revisit these memories, and be so supportive at the same time.

Thursday I called in sick. I could feel the jitters of nerves too close to the surface. So I tried to rest and regroup. By early afternoon I finally ventured out to visit a church turned into an Art Gallery. How ironic? But as I sat there and attempted to start talking to the artist about my ideas for a memorial piece for Keith, I suddenly couldn’t speak and instead broke down crying. Here was a complete stranger and she was so very sweet and genuine in her support.

Once I recovered, we went on to talk about my ideas and also how Keith had always admired what she’d done to the building he once wanted to buy, but couldn’t afford at the time. While Perry Road was truly the dream shop for him, he had often driven by this church on the hill and expressed how if it ever came up for sale, it would make a great gallery. Sure enough, it did. The artist sitting across from me said that now she felt the pressure to do well by the project more than ever knowing how Keith had admired and even envied her having that building. She’d done a beautiful job renovating it and it felt very much like a beautiful and spiritual homage to creative work. Keith would have approved.

So when I woke up this morning after yet another late night, I no longer felt as stressed as I’d been all week. The woodturning lumber and giant bandsaw were on their way to Tawas, the memorial art piece was well-planned, some designs for the Jerome Lane house have been measured for, and even Sweet Pea, my Russian Wolfhound, has a new hairdo after being completely shaved of her matted and neglected fur, and groomed to a new sleeker look. I did a full set of yoga this morning and pursued getting work done for my doctoral class and later writing a lecture on Fiji Art for an Art Survey course I was subbing for Monday. By mid-day, I thought it best if I stopped to plan and then shop for Thanksgiving.

It was a productive day in spite of the fact that I write this after 3 am. The new normal is becoming fixed.

I still talk to Keith. There’s a new photo I printed where I’d cropped out the rest of the scene on the Beachouse cafe’s deck, where he was sitting looking back at the camera over his shoulder, a bit of a smirk on his face. He’s looking straight at the camera and I cannot help but think that he is still there… on the other side… ready to send new angels when I need them most.

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The photo above shows the gang moving the 1870s-era band saw, stripped down to its last 1000 lbs of cast iron. A crescent moon hangs in the branches of the trees, smiling its cheshire grin, as if Keith was adding his own smile of approval to the joyful noises that emerged from the hillside workshop.