I’m lost in my thoughts, sorting tiny pieces of metal type, cleaning the typecases, as sunlight brightens the room from the three walls of windows that filter it into it as I work.

Blessed. That’s how I’m feeling. Surrounded by antique type, printing presses and cabinets, I’m in my happy place, dreaming of the poetry, creative typography, and other items I’d print in this room. Imagining artist friends, old and new, also working in the space, as our creative spirits feed each other.

My mind drifts to conversations, recent events. Mercury and Jupiter in retrograde and I seem immune. But others in the family haven’t been so lucky. Challenges posed by one thing after another keep coming, some more serious than other. They weigh on my mind as each new issue flows through my thoughts like heavy clouds.

From one side of the family, Steve was managing an upset with one of his grown children who seemed to be having a bit of an emotional breakdown on a sad journey. An offer to come help with a project the following day led to an angry response that his help was needed “now” and a meltdown of personal attacks that were more of a cry of someone feeling like their world was out of control and the lashing out was a sign of despair.

Like the virus that has been plaguing the globe, the anger spread, inflicted on siblings. And then it continued to spread. Swirling from one family member to another, feeding on insecurities and bottled up pain.

But it didn’t end there. Like the virus that has been plaguing the globe, the anger spread, inflicted on siblings. And then it continued to spread. Swirling from one family member to another, feeding on insecurities and bottled up pain. Another who had not yet been vaccinated, flatly refusing to be, siting some Q-Anon type conspiracy misinformation, texted another to “mind his own damn business.”

The storm

All of these things were swirling through my head as I quietly sorted type and cleaned the cases in the studio. A dangerous thunderstorm had hit just last Tuesday afternoon… It came up so fast and I had an impending sense of urgency so I went out and told Steve he needed to send our teenage helper home, having just gotten his license. The helper had left barely 5 minutes and the storm came up too fast. Rain blew horizontally, swirling around corners, winds whipping the trees large and small like a forest of rag dolls. The world looked like layers of grey, accented by the whips of rain-soaked brushes between the fields and forests.

I took a short video as the rains and winds came across the fields and slammed the world around me. But I took cover when it came across the upper covered deck sideways. The time stamp on the video was 1:49 pm. And then it was over.

A video of the storm just as it started, trees whipped around violently as the rain slashed across sideways. It was over in ten minutes.

At 1:59 pm, the time stamp on the first photos I took, we saw the destruction. A huge box elder tree with a gaping yawning mouth lined in red where the smaller trunk split from the main one, had fallen across our fence on the east side, and much of it also landed alongside the house, missing a newly installed exterior lamp post by inches – and the house – by only a few feet.

On the west side, a huge maple on the neighbor’s side of the fence had lost a major limb hit by lightning with many extending branches landed across that fence. It also missed the shop windows by only inches. I’d seen the lightning flash and had immediately begun to count. But I didn’t get to “1” before the thunderous crash. Now we knew what it was based on the blackened trunk where the large limb had been severed and veins of burnt bark ran up the tree trunk.

In the backyard, several trees, already weakened from the water that formed a pond whenever it rained, had been blown over, propped up by neighboring trees. Branches and debris were all over, leaves plastered to the house, cottonwood leaves and branches from a tree in the far backyard were found in the front yard.

And yet, as I looked at it all, and as Steve and I walked through the mess, figuring out what we needed to do to keep the dogs safe until the fence could be repaired, once the trees were removed… I felt blessed.

And yet, as I looked at it all, and as Steve and I walked through the mess, figuring out what we needed to do to keep the dogs safe until the fence could be repaired, once the trees were removed… I felt blessed.

It could have been so much worse. The one tree could have hit the house, it certainly could have reached it if blown in a slightly more northerly direction. The maple could have hit the shop more directly, smashing windows and poking holes into the letterpress studio holding our precious type and printing presses. But none of that had happened. I felt like we were in a protected bubble that had kept us and our home safe.

Now we wait for the tree guys to come in the next week or two to cut and clear the downed trees. Another blessing. I told Steve that he should not have to deal with this giant mess. That we had the funds to cover it. I’d spoken to our insurance advisor who told me what the break-even point was for filing a claim, or not. Based on that information we decided to cover it ourselves. Now we wait. And it doesn’t bother me at all. The broken limbs and leaves all around my view are a real reminder of how well we’d faired. We didn’t lose power – at least not long enough for the generator to even kick on.

Meditating on anger

As I rearranged some of the funny advertising cuts, illustrations, and halftones in the cases – ones I’d like to play with in my own art vs. ones I’d likely never use – other thoughts went rolling through my hive mind. Anger and stress, depression and flaring tempers have been fed by more than divorce and is fed as much by the pain of pandemic politics and fear for the health of those we love. Yet, how could someone send a text to their grown offspring saying “your stuff is on the porch, taco dinners at 6, don’t bother showing up.” There is so much to dissect from this statement, especially within the already divisive pain caused by misinformation about the veracity and threat of COVID19.

My mind went to how one handles anger, revenge and spite. Maybe it’s because I’ve matured. Or maybe I’ve found that responding in anger or spite is a no-win game. There is nothing to be gained by it. Have I gotten angry, lost my temper? Yes. And it wasn’t something that served me. I didn’t feel better about it. Just the opposite. I felt awful. It didn’t bring me peace. It took a lot of painful work to try and heal the rifts it caused.

I’ve been wronged terribly and in very painful and even expensive ways. Yet I see no point in being spiteful, or seeking revenge. …Each person’s spirit will face their own path, their own hard lessons.

And it’s been awhile. I’ve been wronged terribly and in very painful and even expensive ways. Yet I see no point in being spiteful, or seeking revenge. I believe that each person’s spirit will face their own path, their own hard lessons. All I can do is attempt to do my part to support growth, not harm. And to separate myself from those who only offer selfish toxicity rather than love.

As I gathered the metal type borders to move to their new location in another typecase, I tried to also gather my thoughts on how someone could so intentionally hurt a person they loved. I couldn’t do that. As angry as I might be with someone who I thought had hurt me through their actions or words, if we had love between us, I couldn’t hurt them back.

I’ve since learned to try and listen – and think – about what and why they were saying and doing what they were. Was I missing something? Were they also hurt? Were they trying to help me with something? Perhaps I needed to understand more from their perspective and not just be caught up with my own hurt feelings and ego. This is how my brain works these days. I live by the Four Agreements (Don Miguel Ruiz) and it has been instrumental in how I’ve addressed conflicts for many years.

A story from before times

It wasn’t always that way. I remember a time not long after we were first married that my dear first husband Keith had done something to upset me. I don’t even remember what it was. But I was really upset as I washed a glass Pyrex lasagna pan in the sink. He kept at it, picking at the wound that I felt was being inflicted. I held the pan up as if I was going to smash it against the edge of the sink and stopped. I didn’t want the glass to hit him. I didn’t want to hurt him. I just wanted him to know how upset I was. I looked down and saw the rag rug I was standing on and, with both hands, I threw the pan down flat onto it hard.

The glass flew off in all directions and I stood there dumbfounded. I’d forgotten it was a concrete floor underneath the rug at my feet. Keith was shocked as well. But he quick regained his composure, taking me by the elbow and walking me into the living room to sit on the sofa. “I’ll clean this up,” I remember him saying. And he did, as I sat there with tears streaming down my cheeks. I’d ruined a perfectly good lasagna pan, and now there was glass everywhere, even three feet up in the pots of the hanging houseplants in front of the far window of the kitchen.

Keith knew how to push my buttons. There was a bit of a cruel streak in him. But I soon learned that I could push back. That he loved me. I just needed to not push with cruelty but with love. And sometimes he just needed space. It took many years for us to find balance. And it seemed like we were just starting to really find our groove after nearly 30 years of marriage.

He’d learned that bravado and machismo can have consequences for the one you love and I paid the price.

He cared for me when I broke my back and wrist. Guilt played a role. He’d learned that bravado and machismo can have consequences for the one you love and I paid the price.

He was so proud of me when I was accepted into the doctoral program. “My wife’s gonna be Doctor Fulmer,” he’d tell everyone.

We danced at our oldest daughter’s wedding, and I knew dancing was not something he liked to do. Yet he did it. For me. And for our daughter. I will forever treasure that moment, captured in a photo, where we were looking into each other’s eyes and saying “How did we get here?” How did we get old enough to have a married daughter? We did well!

All the heartaches of the past had been just bumps in the road on the way to our next chapter in life as true empty nesters. Just one more year to get the youngest graduated from college and we were on our own again. Blessings were upon us, for sure. And then… and then…

Worry when life’s good

Is it no wonder that I now look at Steve with worry and occasional bouts of melancholy, worried that our time together will be unexpectedly brief? I worry for his health. I worry for his strength. I hear him say such and such an activity “takes the life out of ya” and I think – “not too soon, I hope.” Sometimes I think we’re on borrowed time. Perhaps it’s the blessings I feel, their abundance and good fortune. I worry that, like those days over ten years ago, that within a year or two it’ll all be crushed and my heart will be broken once again.

And in a most prescient way, I feel it, that doom. And I try and chase it away. Thankful of the sounds of the antique riding lawnmower he drives by my studio as I continue my sorting. He smiles in a cheerful shy way as if to say “I’m just having fun with my old toys.” And I smile back at him, not wanting to ruin his fun by mentioning the exhaust that pulls into my studio from the fans I have running. So I go and open a few extra windows to help air it out.

It is also the silence that brings me a feeling of dread. A feeling that I have imagined my life with him, and that I am actually living alone in this giant house. It’s a feeling that I must be out of my mind for having imagined this whole life with this sweet man who brought me love when I needed it most. Together we healed each other and I wonder sometimes if my sanity is undermined and that I have dreamed it all up.

Sometimes I think we’re on borrowed time. … I worry that, like those days over ten years ago, that within a year or two it’ll all be crushed and my heart will be broken once again.

And then he smiles and gives me a hug. And I wonder… if this is my reality, who am I to question it. I just cannot wrap my head around inflicting pain on those you love. There’s enough pain in the world… and in life… already. Count your blessings, spread love, not pain.

I go back to my typecases and admire the mix of order and disorder. There are stories here, yet to be uncovered.


Revised from a diary entry dated July 3, 2021.

Since you left us…

Photos of me and Keith, on the left by Flint Journal reporter in early 2000s;
on the right in 2011 at daughter’s wedding.

It’s been 8 years since you left us, 8 years since you departed this earth. It’s been 8 years since my heart broke so hard I never thought I could recover, and 8 years since feeling the pain of saying goodbye begin to fade, and 8 years of learning to love and grow and embrace love once again. 

Keith, it’s been 8 years since I promised to go on, to keep this dream space that sometimes brought with it nightmares of cruelty by outside forces, and 8 years that I look back and see how much it has changed due to that tenacious hold on the dream.

It’s been 8 years since the sharp pain of your departure, Keith, and of my growing recognition of the many blessings that followed. It’s been 8 years since I promised to complete my educational goals, and 8 years of learning that, with the support of loved ones, family and friends, I must believe that I will always end up where I am most needed as long as I don’t give up. 

It’s been 8 years since our small family grew even smaller, and 8 years of watching it grow exponentially, even as old ones have left us, and young ones have been born to us. It’s been 8 years since you departed only 54 years young, and 8 years older that I have become. 

It’s been 8 years of knowing that you are never far from me in spirit, because when I call out I am embraced by a feeling of deep love and support. And it’s been 8 years of wisdom I’ve gained since you left this earth, knowing that life is fleeting, and it is best to celebrate each morning as I wake to live another day, and each evening as I lay my head upon the pillow knowing I am surrounded by love in both spirit and earthly worlds. 

———————————————————————-

[Dear Reader – I know it’s been awhile since I wrote. Thank you for your patience. During this past year, I started a temporary new role at the college which has kept me very busy. This was made even more so by the pandemic which shut us down for in-person classes in March. And the year in this new role was also deeply challenged by the loss of my colleague, supervisor, mentor from cancer. • To top it off, my 81-yr-old dad who was living with me also passed away from pancreatic cancer. Although in his case it was mercifully quick, it was so very heartbreaking to see him go through it as I tried my best to support him. Family also made a difference, being there for his last week as we prepared our goodbyes. • So now, as things begin to stabilize, I find myself awakened on this 8th anniversary of another deep loss, and I count my blessings even as the world is in turmoil around me. – mjf]

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.

 

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.

Today is the birthday of several good friends. And I wish them LOTS of happiness as they celebrate another year of life to share with loved ones and good friends.

It also is the inauspicious anniversary of my late husband Keith’s passing at only 54 years old…the same age that I am now. You can read lots elsewhere in this blog (starting at summer of 2012)  about the transition through his rapid decline to death to the journey of grief and resilience that I have undergone. He was my best friend, lover, and husband of 30 years. He was someone I would trust without question, share in heartaches and celebrations, and the journey through parenthood raising our two beautiful daughters Sarah and Anastassia.

Today it has been three years since your passing, Keith. A lot has happened. I have grieved… and still do. But I have also moved forward with many of life’s demands and the promises I made… to you, and to myself… and to others.

I have embraced joy in the form of a future grandchild expected in December. And I’ve embraced building a life filled with happiness and love in my marriage to my second husband, Steven, who understands that you came before him. He honors you and protects me. Sometimes he is quick to get upset, mostly out of frustration, when he feels unsuccessful in protecting my interests, or feels slighted by a family member. He is learning the art of nuance and patience. He is learning that what others say or do is not about him, nor is it meant to impugn him. He is learning to let go of the wounds of his other life before me so that it doesn’t fracture an otherwise beautiful relationship.

And I am learning to feel your presence as a guide, to look around me and examine it through your eyes. This has become especially important as we move forward building a new home on Perry Road. You and I and Steven all came from a tradition of craftsmanship. This included a respect for workmanship, the materials, and the process. Things were carefully planned, constructed in the right order, with attention to detail. When it came to homes, it was about making them last, energy-efficient, and beautiful.

As I look at the workmanship of some of the rough framing crew, I am appalled. It has left me – and especially Steven – stressed. We are determined to keep the project moving forward, but only if the workmanship is up to our standards. It is hard to let go. And some things, I admit, I am willing to let go. For now, after several days of stressful challenges to the contractor, I am willing to see what he will do to keep to his promise to address our concerns.

If not… well. Keith… what would YOU do? I ask myself that… every… single… day…

Yes. It’s been three years. But I still depend upon you to guide me and give me strength to keep moving forward.

with love always,

Mara

Photo: Keith and me in Fiji in 2001 chaperoning students.

We were chaperoning a large group of community college students on a study tour to our old stomping grounds in the South Pacific. Keith felt like he was the "dad" to them all - young and old.

We were chaperoning a large group of community college students on a study tour to our old stomping grounds in the South Pacific. Keith felt like he was the “dad” to them all – young and old.