Adventures In Yoga

After a long holiday hiatus, yoga classes picked up again at my local community center.  I never thought I would be so excited about an exercise class.  But, as I learned during the past few months, yoga is so much more than exercise.  For me, it’s been an adventure.  Aside from the physical benefits practicing yoga is aiding my transition from emotionally, mentally burned out caregiver widow to calm, strong, resilient me.  I am no longer carrying darkness.  Instead, I’m restoring the light.

This revelation began on a sunny late August day when I decided (on a whim, of course) to turn onto the road leading to the Richland Area Community Center (RACC).  A pleasant friendly woman named Jody greeted me at the front desk.  Soon Jody was showing me around as she described the activities offered by RACC.  We peeked through a windowed door at a yoga class in session.  Shhhh.  A sign posted outside the room asked for quiet.  Something about the women, and it was mostly women, lying on their colorful mats in silent repose called out to me to join them.

With a six week instructional class starting in September I enrolled on the spot.  No time like the present to feed another whim.  There were also three drop-in classes offered every week.  I decided to take a wait and see approach before jumping into one of those.  However, it wasn’t long after starting the formal class that I began dropping in on Mondays as well.  As a friend who is a long time practitioner said, “How can you not love something that ends with everyone wrapped up in warm blankets?”  Indeed.

On my first day of class any trepidation I felt soon melted away as our instructor approached me.  She asked my name and announced she was also Cathy, “with a C”, as she flashed a captivating smile and said a soul warming “welcome to the group”.   Cathy also took care to ask if I had any physical constraints.  I did.  A knee was giving me pain to the point where I thought I should take my orthopedist’s advice to have cortisone shots.  Handing me knee pads I soon learned to adopt Cathy’s mantra of  “listen to your body”.  There was no pressure ever to move beyond my personal scope of abilities.  Mostly of a more mature age, including a few octogenarians, we all seemed to have some limitation or another.

As week after week I stretched and balanced and strengthened and groaned my knee pain disappeared along with the knee support, painkillers and topical treatments.  I still listen to my body (and my doctor) and use knee pads, but to say I’m amazed at this result would be an understatement.  Oh, yes, I do get a tinge of discomfort now and again, which is when I back off from whatever I’m doing with ‘listen to your body’ echoing in my ears.

Working on my Warrior II pose

However, the most significant surprise wasn’t the physical benefits.  Like a benediction following each session savasana delivered a deep far-reaching spiritual calm in the midst of my personal storm.  You may be asking what exactly is a savasana.  If so, you can see that learning the vocabulary of yoga is one of the good for your brain challenges.  To put it in simple terms, savasana is also known as the corpse pose.  Sounds delightful, doesn’t it?  It actually is delightful and difficult all at once.  

Twenty minutes before the end of my first class, as we readied ourselves for savasana out came blankets and sweat shirts, socks and eye masks, small pillows.  It was as if we were preparing for adult nap time.  Then, we adopted the corpse pose, lying flat on our backs, eyes closed, hands open-palmed facing the ceiling.  Now for the hard part…totally relaxing, not just your fresh-from-a-workout body, but your mind.  Despite soft meditative music playing in the otherwise extreme quiet my ever busy mind worked against my efforts to calm.   

Never able to meditate for more than five minutes, thoughts materialized in my hamster wheel of gray matter faster than it emptied them out.  Oh, busy busy mind.  Relax. Relax. Around my third or fourth class we were introduced to the Sa Ta Na Ma meditation.  Coincidentally, the next day my grief counselor introduced it to me as well.   Ask and ye shall receive.  The universe knew I needed a crutch to lean on.  With this method I now meditate during savasana to the point of nearly falling asleep!

As the handout Cathy gave us says, “Sa Ta Na Ma is intended to bring mental balance clearing your subconscious for a fresh start.  It improves concentration and brain function, increases intuitive abilities, and brings peace and understanding to the practitioner.”  And, so it does.

Again the vocabulary.  Here is the meaning of each word as each finger is touched in a pressure point to the thumb.  This is done slowly with inhales and exhales as each finger presses the thumb and each word is silently, mindfully said.

Sa = birth = index finger pressure point

Ta = life = middle finger pressure point

Na = death = ring finger pressure point

Ma = rebirth = pinky finger pressure point

As I practiced this at home my ability to meditate grew to ten minutes of keeping my busy mind at bay.  I’d even venture to say meditation has calmed not only my mind, but my spirit as it allowed much needed rest, peace and mental space to blossom. After savasana, each session ends with an inspirational or poetic reading by Cathy. Then, we all place our hands at heart center and say, “namaste”, which is a Sanskrit word meaning “I bow to you”. The word never fails to leave me with a peaceful feeling of being here and now and part of a larger community.

According to John Hopkins Medicine (hopkinsmedicine.org) yoga improves balance, strength and flexibility, can help with back pain and arthritis symptoms and supports heart health.  Managing stress, better sleep, more energy and brighter moods and connecting with a supportive community are other benefits cited.  Yoga has provided that and much more for me.  As I sit here looking out my window at snow floating softly to the frozen earth, I’m grateful for this adventure in yoga and its many rewards.

Namaste

Where Are You Going? Where Have You Been?

Here we are again.  The end of another year.  One of the rituals of the culmination of the year is reflection upon where we’ve been as we make resolutions for the next year.  I haven’t made New Year’s resolutions in I don’t know how long, although I opted a few years ago to embrace a Word Of The Year or WOTY for short.  For me, the last few months were dedicated to reflecting not only on 2022, but my entire lifetime.  Many times I asked the question, “Where have you been?”  So, I’m not inclined to reflect further.  Instead, in early December I began thinking about where I was going.  My contemplation resulted in action.

Now, back to the WOTY.  The Oxford Dictionary actually chooses a WOTY to reflect the mood of the past year.  On the other hand a personal WOTY is meant to bring clarity to what you expect to change in the next year.  Originally, I chose ‘joy’ then ‘create’ then ‘balance’ then ‘renew’ then ‘discovery’ then no word at all.  I decided I was having such a time identifying one specific word that I didn’t actually want 2023 to be defined by a WOTY.  I desired the freedom to wend my way through any number of experiences and ideas and feelings and emotions and whatever life brought my way. 

After seeing the book on a friend’s coffee table, in October I bought, “A Year of Positive Thinking” by Cyndie Spiegel.  Spiegel provides a positive thought for each and every day of the year.  The dates are non-specific to a certain year, so you can pick up anywhere in any year.  I added it to my morning reading along with the “Guide For Spiritual Living”, a monthly magazine from the Center For Spiritual Living.  Coupling my daily readings with a course in The After Life at a local college, I drew on these resources as I ruminated about 2022 and planned for 2023.  I wanted 2023 to develop without being boxed in.

I reached this conclusion after reading, on December 23rd, Cyndie Spiegel’s thought for the day.  She wrote, “Who were you once?  Who were you before you began becoming the person others told you to be?  Who were you when you trusted and actually listened to your truest self?”  Oddly, this was exactly what I had been meditating upon since Martin’s death.  

Realistically, we all know the person of our childhood is long gone. Or, are they? Is our childhood person replaced by the person who was not only molded, in part, by those around us, but also by our life experiences?  “No”, I answered. “I am the same person yet a different person.”  Life can indeed be messy.  It can be fraught with hurt and trauma, unexpected pain.  It can also be magical, joyful and mystical with unexpected gifts.  Through it all, we grow and learn, rising in wisdom and, hopefully, self-actualization, becoming who we are today.  Yet, our soul’s code remains deep within perhaps waiting to be awakened.

Spiegel also asked such questions as, “What did you enjoy?” And “Where did you go?”  Those questions begged answers providing my mind and heart something to chew on.   Even before reading this passage in Spiegel’s book, I determined to do some things I now had the freedom to make happen.  Drawing on my work experience I knew resolutions often fail because they are not developed as step by step goals.  Knowing what action is required to make a want a reality is the key to success.  Drawing on my childhood dreams I began taking action.

Of course, whatever I did would most likely be done solo.  Traveling was a dream from childhood carried into my derailed retirement.  Now, I was putting that train back on the tracks full speed ahead.  Trepidation over traveling by my little old self was assuaged by the Michigan State University Alumni Travel Program.  As an alumnus I could take advantage of the numerous tours offered each year to Europe, Asia, South America and Africa.  A friend also reminded me of how, in our much younger days, we traveled solo for business as a matter of routine.  I could do this!  And, so I dove into the idea by booking a 2023 tour to Tuscany, Italy.

Ah, me. I had written lots of contracts in my career days and then, there’s this blog.  My soul still longed to write.  To that end, I reserved a spot in a writing workshop at John Campbell Folk School.  I’ve been to John Campbell twice before.  There’s a certain comfort in spending a week in a familiar, friendly place where community and fellowship abound.  Following the pandemic meals are back to being communal along with Morning Song and evening activities.  Living on campus is part of this uniquely American experience amidst artists and art, American folk art.

And, of course, the house I’m still sitting in as I write this is going back on the market next spring.  While my new house is being built I’m not sure where I will land to call my temporary home.  Yet, I feel strangely secure in the idea it will work out.  I know how the big picture will look if I’m off on one of my forays.  It’s the details, which allude me due to timing and the market and all the unknown little things that surface only when a contract is put together.  One of the gifts of Martin’s passing is my spiritual transformation to faith in the power of the universe.  I am not a body with a mind; I am a mind with a body.  Whatever occurs, everything I need will all come together.

This is my plan for 2023 so far.  And, that may be enough for one year.  For all the times I could barely put one foot in front of the other, I’m so excited about the future.  This is my time.  There is unlimited joy in just thinking of the possibilities.  Taking steps to make these dreams a reality is empowering beyond anything I could have imagined.  I revisited the idea of a WOTY and revised my thoughts.  Why not have Words Of The Year?  Plural.  As I enter 2023 ‘creativity’, ‘self-discovery’ and ‘adventure’ capture my mood and intent.

To all of you, wherever you are, I wish you a creative, adventurous 2023 of discovery!

A Penny

Shortly after Martin died I walked down my long driveway to fetch the mail.  Usually, I have little or none.  But, in the days following his death my mailbox held more than junk mail.  There were sympathy cards and official letters from various institutions.  As I pulled out the cache of the day I saw something I’d never seen in my mail.  A penny.  It lay underneath the cards and letters and the ubiquitous junk mail.  A penny so tarnished it almost faded into the background of the black metal floor of the box.

My mind flooded with the rhetorical questions.  Who would leave a penny in my mailbox and why and how?  I lived on a busy road, so someone walking by was unlikely.  The leaving must have been thoughtful, intentional.  “A penny for your thoughts” (Sir Thomas More) came to mind.  Was it my faithful mail lady who left it?  I lifted the penny out, slid it into my jean pocket and walked back to the house.  Inside, before turning my attention to the mail, I fished it out and set it on a mosaic trivet Martin had made in an art class. 

Over the next couple of days I eyed the penny still wondering how it got in my mailbox.  Did a penny have any significance?  “See a penny and pick it up and all day you’ll have good luck”  (Mother Goose Nursery Rhymes).  Since we can pretty much Google anything these days, my curiosity finally gave way to asking Google.  To my surprise a penny has significance for the deceased or their loved ones.  In the case of a veteran a penny left at the grave means someone visited.  For a widow like myself a penny in the mailbox represents a new beginning, a rebirth, renewal of your life.  A penny being first and one represents singularity.  If you are part of a couple, one of you will die first leaving the other alone, single.

I’ve been alone for nearly eighteen months.  While Martin still lived, it was not with me.  If there is a silver lining here, it’s that I had ample time to adapt to my aloneness and grieve this impending, profound, enormous loss in my life.  The outcome?  I was not filled with the expected feelings of grief.  Rather, as I held Martin during his final moments I cried tears of gratitude for the end of his suffering.  He was free of this disease.  I was free of this disease.  Our family was free of this disease.  Relief instead of deep sorrow.  Comfort in knowing he was at peace.  As I stroked his face I noted how serene his countenance.  Peace at last.

Though I’ve had fits of grief, I’ve also felt immense joy when contemplating my future.  During the last year I deliberately divested myself of anything, which smacked of negativity in my life.  I decluttered the house paring my personal belongings. I feel washed clean, ready for a new start.  Martin would want that for me.  A friend asked if I thought Martin’s spirit left the penny. I would like to think so. I may never know who left the penny in my mailbox, but it is now my talisman for fresh beginnings, rebirth, a reawakening of my life’s potential.  And a second chance at the retirement we dreamed of.

End of Life

The post I had in mind for a month ago was “Cooking for One”, but I found myself, not for the first time, with writer’s block.  It’s been a rough last few weeks.  So, today, forcing myself to write, I decided to post what’s kept me from writing.  “Cooking for One” will have to wait.

It should come as no surprise that my somber mood has to do with Martin. Over the course of the summer he declined significantly, more seriously so in the past few weeks.  Hospice says it’s a matter of months.  I ask the question.  A few months?   Several months?  They don’t know.  Just months.  Martin’s primary attending predicts a more rapid decline in the next 90 days.  But, even he doesn’t know for sure.  All they know is the signs are there for end of life.  But, this disease is as unpredictable as it is cruel.

I’ve long steeled myself for this moment, yet somehow through all the years of anticipatory grief, I wasn’t prepared for the overwhelming feelings of impending final loss.  Adrift.  Alone.  Indecisive.  Unfocused.  I feel as if I’m slogging through mud up to my knees.  Just putting one foot in front of the other takes effort.  Yes, I’m depressed.  Who among us wouldn’t be.  We all experience loss throughout our lives.  We walk through the actuality of our sorrow to hopefully come out on the other side to accept the loss and start our lives anew.  It’s the getting there that depletes us.  

This end has been coming for the past ten years, twelve if I count the two years prior to retirement.  That’s when I noticed changes in Martin’s once predictable personality.  Blamed on stress and depression he chose to retire from his pressure cooker job.  It was one night not soon after that we sat in the kitchen sipping cabernet and talking about dinner.  Instead of bowl Martin described mixing something – I don’t remember what – in a box.  “You mean a bowl,” I said.  “No.  A box,”  came his answer.  Perplexed, I got up, went to a cabinet and pulled out a bowl.  He smiled and said, “Oh. Yeah.  A bowl.”   I brushed aside my concerns not knowing a years long trial had just shown itself.

My vast experience as a caregiver tells me the best thing I can do for me and Martin is take care of myself.  To that end I started seeing a counselor again.  Hospice, of course, has social workers and a chaplain to talk to.  Family and friends are getting me out to some fun events.  And, my readership gives me purpose.  Last week I took my first ever yoga class.  It was so rejuvenating I wish I had started sooner in my caregiving journey.  I read Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking for a second time.  With its honesty her memoir about the year after her husband’s sudden death speaks to me as I experience many of the same emotions, confusion and wishful thinking.  Meditating and reading my spiritual guide each morning at least starts my day off on a peaceful note. 

I sit with Martin, who no longer recognizes me, looks at me, won’t let me hold his hand, but still allows me to rub his shoulders.  He can no longer say even one word.  I talk to him soothingly telling him it will be ok, not certain if I’m reassuring him or me or both of us.  I’m hoping somewhere inside what remains of my Martin he recognizes my voice and takes comfort from its sound.  And I pray for mercy and grace for a peaceful death.  Soon.

Lighten Up

I received a lot of insightful comments to my query on retirement challenges.  It sounds like we all realize retirement is no different from the other times of our lives.  There are ups and downs we weathered and will continue to weather as we age.  For some of you the challenges provided inspiration to find new meaning and purpose enriching your retirement.  For others, you faced unexpected loss as I did early in my retirement.  For others still, it was a matter of accepting the situation, what I call lightening up. 

For me, while recently working on creating a greater idea about my life, I’ve encountered some setbacks beyond my control.  As someone who’s always tried to control events learning to let go and allow this evolution to flow wherever it takes me is a challenge in itself.  My personality was never one to lighten up.

Now, I find myself with no other choice.  The new house is on indefinite hold.  I haven’t sold my current house.  In order to build the new one I must first sell this one.  Our inflationary period played a role, but the big deterrent came out of the blue.  Following the height of the pandemic, people are still working from home and many will continue to do so.  I lost two serious working-from-home buyers wanting to live the rural life, but needing the ability to video conference.  I now know more about the internet than I ever wanted to know.  

My Modern Farmhouse Now On Hold

I have high speed internet.  However, the download is fast enough for video conferencing; the upload is not.  The upload pushes information out into the world wide web.  The only way to increase the speed at my house is access to fiber optics, which my carrier predicts is at least a year away.  As I write this fiber is being laid a mere eleven miles from my house.  According to a recent article in The Washington Post only 43% of the population in the United States has fiber optics.  The Biden Administration passed a bill to extend fiber into rural America and Michigan received its share of the funding.  As we all know, everything takes time as a project of this magnitude requires lots of labor and materials to execute the plan. 

Since I need to rent while my new house is built, I was also in a quandary about where I would live.  Not only are rents exceedingly high, every single place I contacted had long waiting lists.  Very few offered short-term leases of six to eight months.  In the college town of Kalamazoo with thousands of rental units I was shocked to find nothing readily available.  With my three cats and Rachel’s three dogs, moving in with her family is out of the question, unless we want the fur to fly.  Consequently, I decided to take the house off the market and wait out inflation, market fluctuations and laying fiber optics.

Though disappointed I’m also grateful I don’t have to move.  I have the luxury of staying put a while longer.  And, with all the work preparing the house for sale, I can sit back and enjoy the fruits of my labor.  We all face challenges.  The ups and downs are normal.  We work through our current sticky wicket, reach a plateau and then the next glitch appears in our lives.  Working through each one is called growth.  We learn, compromise, rise to the occasion, adapt, acquiesce or whatever else it takes.  It’s all part of our evolution.  I decided to surrender to this moment.  I know what I’m seeking and eventually it will happen.  For now, I’ll continue doing nothing and just lighten up.

What Are Your Retirement Challenges?

As my retirement turned into an unplanned roller coaster ride with ups and downs I’ve wondered about my readers’ experience in the time of Covid, inflation and other uncertainties.  I think of all the retirees planning to travel by air or land or spend leisurely days on the golf course or tennis courts, beach or lakes.  There are the dreamers of a long awaited tour of other countries or an RV adventure.  People who want to start a second career or volunteer, take classes, start a new hobby, spend more time with grandkids. You’ve heard about my journey; now tell me something about your experiences.  

By asking you to share your experience with others I believe we’ll find we have a lot in common.  Sharing can create change, a feeling of community and the knowledge we aren’t alone.  Oftentimes, we keep our battles hidden.  I deliberately exposed mine through this blog hoping to help other retirees work out what I saw as common dilemmas from identity loss to how to fill our time.  Reading the comments to some of my posts helped me realize I wasn’t alone and gave me insight and ideas I might, otherwise, have not encountered.

At one time I really thought my retirement was over.  Maybe even an enjoyable life would never come again.  But, I found I had more resilience and strength than I ever thought possible.  Enter Covid.  I thought the world had gone to hell in a hand basket.  Being house bound was difficult; going out with a demented husband was even more difficult.  Getting him to wear a mask, social distance, use hand sanitizer took all my patience some days.  I thought retirement couldn’t become more difficult, but then I thought of the people around the world suffering far more than I and Martin.  For years now, I call Tuesday Gratituesday as a way to be sure I count the good things in my life at least one day a week.  That kept me going with hope.

What have you faced my friends?  Did Covid or some other event derail your retirement plans?  Did you work and continue to work?  Did you retire early?  Did you shelve plans to travel or golf or visit museums or wineries or other parts of your country?  Now we are experiencing high inflation.  It’s higher than it’s been in decades.  There are supply chain issues.  Travel is expensive and from what I’ve seen on TV air travel is frustrating as flights are canceled or delayed.  Are you like me and experienced a health crisis with your partner or yourself?  The list can go on and on.  

Retirement is much like our pre-retirement lives – stuff happens.  What challenges have you encountered.  How have you handled those challenges?  Did you handle the challenges?  Let’s help each other by sharing.  We’re all on this journey together.

Happy Gratituesday!

Doing Nothing

Over the last several weeks I discovered a luxury I’d been missing.  I didn’t know it was a luxury.  I didn’t know I was missing it.  I never thought of it as a luxury.  But, it is.  For the moment I’m indulging in doing nothing.  Yes, nothing.  Oh, I know we can’t ever be doing nothing.  Even when we’re asleep, we’re doing something.  One of the greatest challenges I’ve faced during the last year is overcoming the habit of being in constant motion both physically and mentally.  

After two months of decluttering, donating, selling, cleaning, paint touch ups, spring garden tidying, mulching, cleaning some more, making everything sparkle, the damaged deck replaced, it was show time. The house went on the market.  The new deck, which is the result of two cherry trees falling on the old one, the downsized amount of furniture and the fresh feeling of the house and yard almost make me want to stay here.  Almost, but not really.

Following the major clean-up I spent a week or two fidgeting as I looked for activities to fill my time.  Like a leaf in the wind I blew here and there doing whatever I convinced myself needed doing.

Then, I went to Detroit for a few days with a friend.  With tickets to experience Immersive Van Gogh, which was mesmerizing, but way too short, we decided to spend a couple nights so we could shop (I bought one tiny little thing) and visit The Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation.  Three days of wandering through museums and shops and art space.  Leisurely breakfasts and lunches and dinners.  Talking and sharing.  Sleeping later than usual.  I felt like I hadn’t felt in years.  

Immersed in Van Gogh

Returning refreshed I decided to just be for a while.  To do nothing.  Easier said than done.  Years of caregiving had my monkey brain still engaged full tilt.  Over my caregiving years I learned to anticipate the next need, upset, crisis putting myself into forever proactive mode.  If my predictive efforts didn’t anticipate the next caregiving event, there was, of course, flight, fight or freeze.  Rarely did I freeze because I never stopped thinking or doing.  And, there was never a time including respites where I focused on just being.  Now, I realize what a luxury it is to do nothing.  

Remember mindfulness? I wrote about it, practiced it and left it behind probably at the time I needed it most.  Mindfulness is achieved by being mentally present.  I’d been thinking for so long about the future and replaying the past in my head that I lost the habit of being conscious of my surroundings, my body, my emotions and not even paying slight attention to my current thoughts as they were swallowed up by stressing over what was to come.  Somehow, I had to unearth the ability to live in full awareness of the present moment.  It was there once; I could relearn it. 

Enter neuroplasticity.  Remember that?  I also wrote about neuroplasticity, took classes on the brain and brain research at Furman University OLLI.  Since then, the research on mindfulness and neuroplasticity continues to support the fact that we can create new neural pathways, even in cases where the brain is injured.  When we learn something new, we rewire our brains. I’m on a track to rewire my brain with new neural pathways to respond to situations sans flight, fight or freeze.  I’m reorganizing the connections in my brain.  Doing nothing is helping me.  By deliberately slowing my days I’m choosing what to do with intention each day, to be mindful and conscious.  

Intention is not the same as having a to do list where you tick off each accomplishment.  It’s not setting goals.  My goal is to rewire my brain, but it is the daily practice guided by my intentions, which enables me to reach that goal.  To me an intention sets the tempo for my day.  It guides me.  Working in my garden carries an intention such as, “I intend to be aware of the beauty and life in my garden.”  Other intentions could be “I intend to eat a healthy diet today” or “I intend to practice mindfulness today” or “I intend to forgive others and myself”.  

We often tend to believe if we put ourselves on idle, we’re being unproductive, lazy, wasting time.  For me, doing nothing is not actually doing nothing, but, instead, being present, mindful of the moment with intention.  Remember meditation?  I was always good for about 5 minutes and that’s where I’ve started over with my meditation practice.  Years ago I took a course in Buddhism, which is where I was introduced to meditation.  The one important part of the practice, at least for me, was learning thoughts enter our minds even as we want to empty the mind.  My instructor taught me to identify each thought as positive, negative or neutral, then let it go.  It works leaving me with a clear mind, which affords room to consciously rewire of my brain.

During my years of working I prided myself on what I could get done in a day. In the early years of retirement I felt the same way. Following Martin’s diagnosis and years of caregiving, however, I’ve changed my mind.  It’s taken the last year, and at times, I still find myself feeling as if I accomplished nothing in a day.  And that’s ok.  Letting go of old habits takes practice and time.  For the most part, I now cherish the ability to slow down, reflect, feel joy, be grateful, create and live in the moment.  It’s the luxury of doing nothing.

Decluttering – Or The Big Purge

My Mother’s good luck charm

In order to reinvent my life I must divest myself of fragments from my past.  Like my best memories of Martin, I’m keeping the possessions, which are dear to me.  I’m not seeking a minimalist lifestyle, but one honoring our past while giving breath to what lies ahead of me.  Unlike past decluttering this one requires a wisdom imbued with greater purpose.

I had a longtime habit of cleaning out closets and drawers each January as my version of out with the old, in with the new.  Somewhere along the path I’m on that annual ritual went by the wayside.  When we sold our South Carolina house, I did a major declutter.  Or, so I thought.  

In preparation for the sale of my Michigan house, I began going through drawers and closets with the purpose of decluttering.  As I cleared drawers of stuff, I also considered furniture, which won’t fit in my new smaller home.  Lists of things to donate and items to sell forced me to realize I wasn’t decluttering; this was the big purge.

There were obvious items that must go, like Martin’s bicycle, gear and outfits along with sport coats, dress shirts, slacks, leather belts and shoes. No reason for any of it to languish in closets and cubbies when someone else could make good use of it.  It took two weeks for me to act on selling Martin’s bike.  I cleaned it, polished it and looked at it day in and day out.  I felt frozen in time, slogging through quick sand.  After mustering the courage to drop his clothing at Good Will, I felt relief.  Then, a few hours later, came a serious meltdown as grief washed over me in a torrent of tears.  Divesting myself of his belongings was accepting he would never walk through the door again.  Once I was all cried out, I let go of the bicycle as well.  It was a kind of release.

Martin’s racing bicycle

As I sort through our lifetime with a mostly clear head I didn’t have in 2019, I often ask myself why I paid to have this or that hauled from South Carolina.  Taking a page from organizational expert Marie Kondo, so much of what I had didn’t spark joy.  “Did it spark joy for me?”, became my precept, albeit one which is resulting in keeping a few things that may not evoke a modern farmhouse style.  Looking at my Great-Great Aunt Josephine’s crystal jewelry box, I opened it.  I lifted out a chestnut.  Hard and brown my Mother carried it in her purse as a talisman.  As I ran my fingers over its smooth rich decades old surface this memento from my Mother was now my symbol of juju, mojo, good luck.  A practical woman, a strong woman, her spirit would help me push through this arduous task.

As with the chestnut, possessions carry energy in the memories they summon in our spirits.  I looked at the five sets of dishes from the dinner group we belonged to in the 1990’s.  I hadn’t needed nor used all this entertainment paraphernalia in decades.  The dishes, napkins and rings, table clothes and serving dishes.  In an epiphany I realized it was the memories I was holding onto, memories of those evenings when we gathered monthly to break bread.  Fun nights like the mystery dinners where we dressed up as various characters in a whodunit.  And then, there was the toga party where neighbors must have thought we were crazy traipsing through our garden, glasses of red wine in hand, with our guests,  all of us dressed in bed sheets!  I would keep the memories and some of the accoutrements, but it was time for most of the physical trappings to go.

Following my second car load of memories taken to Good Will the picture was becoming clear.  There were certain objects, furniture, glass ware, keepsakes I would never part with.  Antique pieces from both our families needed to stay with me a while longer.  A few pieces of the furniture we bought during our marriage were now vintage, slightly marred with scratches or glass rings where a coaster went unused.  There is no place for a couple of items in my to-be-built new home, but I’m making a place.  

The large marble coffee table in the great room was originally on the chopping block.  Then came the evening I sat in front of the fire place mindfully looking at its smooth surface and rough edges, the tiny scratches from grandchildren running toy cars across it along with a few water marks from spilled drinks. Martin and I had gone to The Street of Dreams charity event while living in Seattle.  In an 11,000 square foot show house sat a marble coffee table dazzling us both.  A couple weeks later Martin went on a motorcycle ride returning to announce he’d found such a table at Frederick and Nelson Department Store.  He wanted to buy it.  And so did I.  I knew now I couldn’t part with it. It represented a joint purchase, a joint love of beautiful things.  Though now imperfect with blemishes from nearly 40 years of use, this table also represents the joyous imperfection of our lives.  As with ourselves, we looked upon the blemishes as character.  There are possessions, which are just baggage.  And, then, there are things, which warm my heart each day, that spark joy and must continue to color my life.  Despite its ultra modern look the marble table stays.

As I empty the house of remnants of my past life I feel less overwhelmed, lighter, more forward looking.  I’m honoring my past.  And, making room for my future.

On Being Single

While this post seems strange to me on Valentine’s Day eve, it is the approach of February 14 which fostered my curiosity about my current sense of singlehood.  I began looking closely at what it means to be on my own after half a century.  While searching within, I also, of course, searched the web.  There are lots and lots of articles and blogs on being single.  I had to diligently drill down in order to find articles, which weren’t how to’s on dating again or finding a new partner.  Searching my heart and soul, I already knew I want neither.  According to the Pew Research Center living without a spouse or partner under the same roof means I’m single.  

Yes, yes I know.  I can already hear someone saying, “But…but it’s almost Valentine’s Day”.  For those of you with another partner after the death of a spouse or a divorce, I wish you a happy life together.  You are all very fortunate people.  You are also people who most likely made the choice to seek another partner.  Or, perhaps, there was a bit of serendipity at play.  Although I’m now single by chance and location, I’m choosing to remain single for several reasons.

One of many books of love Martin gave me over the decades. This one from the 1970’s is my favorite.

I had the good fortunate of a long, long marriage to a man who enjoyed cooking together, shopping together, working with me in the garden, while I went on motorcycle rides and hikes with him and cheered him on at bicycle time trials.  If something needed repair whether bicycle or house, I was the extra pair of hands. We supported each others careers, with Martin even becoming the trailing spouse for my job move.  Fun for us was creating great meals at home, stopping at our favorite pub for lunch or supper, going to art galleries, museums and historical sites, an occasional play or concert and later creating our art.  We raised two kids and were rewarded with wonderful grandkids.  We had good times and some bad times.  It was all a lot of work, compromise, give and take.  It took years and a mutual commitment to create what we had.

Then, this unthinkably horrible disease took away our beautiful life together, making me Martin’s caregiver and slowly stealing his mind and spirit.  And, now, leaving me to carve out a future of my own, on my own.  I still have our loving family as does he.  They give me support and advice, but the reality is I’m single, alone, but not alone.  As I do today, I will always have a hole in my heart for this profound loss.  

However, at this juncture in my journey I’m also savoring buying my land, planning my new house and making the inherent dozens of decisions with no other consideration than what I want and can afford.  While it’s sometimes scary because all errors in judgment fall squarely on my sagging shoulders, it’s also exhilarating to be forging a new identity.  I feel like a kid again, only with lots of experience.  

As is my habit I didn’t make New Year’s resolutions.  But, I did write goals for 2022.  Perhaps, they are one and the same.  Topping my list is self-care.  Self-care is not being selfish.  It’s putting your own oxygen mask on first so you can help your fellow passengers.  More than one well-meaning person recommended I volunteer as a way to handle my grief.  When I’m fully breathing again, I’ll go back to volunteering.  Following years of caregiving and putting Martin’s needs first, self-care is putting my needs, health and well-being first.  It doesn’t mean I’ve forgotten Martin.  It doesn’t mean I don’t still love him.  It doesn’t translate into I’m no longer grieving.  In fact, part of my grief is finding myself without my lifelong partner.  It’s possible to grieve and, at the same time, feel joy again.

Accepting my single status allows me to envision my future.  I was one-half of a pair in an egalitarian marriage.  The chances of finding another partner wanting or even willing to cook, shop, clean, do laundry and be supportive of my activities outside the home is pretty much nil, especially since at my age, there are far fewer single men.  The reality is women still live longer than men.  Consequently, we outnumber them in the millions.  

I’m also set in my ways.  After five decades with one man, adjusting to a new partner is not anything I want to tackle.  While there is a void with Martin’s decline and subsequent absence, it’s not one I feel a need to fill.  I handled all the finances, paperwork and our social calendar.  As he declined I even learned to make repairs around the house by watching YouTube how-to’s.  I’m most proud of unclogging the dishwasher drain after a glass broke filling the drain with shards. With family and friends, as already mentioned, I’m not alone or lonely.  I’m finding new meaning and purpose in my life, including my return to blogging.  I’m quite capable of caring for myself and have every desire to continue doing so.

All of the above adds up to my choosing to continue living my life in singlehood.  One of my other goals for 2022 is finding me, the real me, the self-directed me, the me without a partner.  I have a house to build, classes to attend, books to read, people to meet, places to go, music to listen to, art galleries, museums and historical sites to visit, trendy and not so trendy small towns to explore, along with locally owned restaurants where I’ll savor good food and wines, cooking great meals at home and creating a new landscape to go with my new house.  Whoopee, more plants, more gardens!  And, of course, not doing anything at all…just being…just me…and my cats.

Beating Back The Winter Blues

Enjoying winter beauty on my walk to retrieve the mail.

Another snowy day.  Watching a Blue Jay on an oak branch outside my window, I feel a sense of peace. That feeling is not the norm for me this time of year.  Following the holidays I’m usually overcome by the winter blues.  It doesn’t matter where I lived, north, south, east or west, a certain melancholy always set in.  But, not this year.  This year I decided to embrace the season.  

Instead of pining for spring I would make a conscious effort to enjoy the snow, the cloud cover and even the cold.  I would be mindful of winter’s beauty.  Instead of seeing a stark landscape I would pay close attention to the birds flitting from tree to bare tree.  I would eye the snow covered branches and listen for the sound of the wind.  I would smell the clean cold air on my walk to the mailbox and filling the bird feeders and shoveling the walkways.  I would arise every morning with gratitude for waking up in a warm bed, having a roof over my head, food to eat, cats greeting me at the door and all of us herding to the kitchen for breakfast.  I would drink coffee and write about the smallest of things in my gratitude journal.  

It is working.  By starting each day with an attitude of gratitude, I find my spirit lifted.  In the past I wrote in my journal in the late evening.  The small change of writing in the morning or sometimes the afternoon turned my mind in an unexpected way.  I also occasionally write in real time right after something as simple as watching a Blue Jay on an oak branch occurs.  By doing so it keeps the feeling of gratitude alive throughout the day.  In addition to a reflection upon the immediate past, my journaling becomes part of the present, creating a more mindful approach to life.

Embracing the season seems easier with retirement.  I never thought I would enjoy living in the north again.  Yet, here I am.  Since I don’t have to go out on the roads during stormy weather, the luxury of settling in for the day with a fire going, instrumental jazz playing, a pot on the stove filled with water and scented oils like orange or cinnamon and later a hot cocoa or tea conspires to fend off the blues.

After shoveling snow I’m ready for a hot cocoa! (note:faux fur)

Self-care is my main agenda this year.  This past month of indulging myself in simple pleasures not only brought that goal into focus, it renewed my sense of purpose.  I started by preparing my house for sale in the spring and I started that by decluttering.  I thought I’d done a bang up job of decluttering when I left South Carolina.  Now, I look at what I dragged to Michigan and wonder why I brought so much stuff.  And the old paperwork!  I went paperless years ago.  Yet, I still found a couple of boxes of old records.  I proceeded with a shred-a-thon.  Having a clear space allows for clear headedness, at least I think so.  

Living in a basically neutral space also brings a certain serenity.  I like using furniture and art to bring in color.  Being homebound with the pandemic raging while also caregiving, I spent many days stripping wallpaper covered with oversized roses, plaids and wild game and painting over walls of bright pinks, greens and browns to create a more relaxing space.  For someone looking for a calming peaceful space neutrals did the trick. Add that to how buyers prefer a clean palette that’s move-in ready and it’s a win-win.

My mornings after coffee, breakfast, cats on my lap, writing in my journal and catching up with friends, I head for the shower.  There I sprinkle an essential oil before starting the water flow.  Lavender or camomile if I want calm, peppermint if I want invigoration.  My favorite is grapefruit, the light citrus smell creating a spirit lifting mood.  I also treat myself to hand milled soaps with similar scents of lavender, peppermint or lemon honey.  Finally, I make my own sugar scrub with a half cup of sugar, enough almond oil to moisten and a dash of essential oil.  That’s my spa-like routine adding to my self-care.

As I finish this it’s the day after the snowfall.  The sun is shining from a blue sky dotted with ghosted clouds.  The glistening snow reflecting warmth into my writing space.  I shoveled sidewalks yesterday and recovered my garbage curb cart from under a drift left by the snow plows.  I’m off now to feed the birds and enjoy the beauty of the season.  

I’d like to hear what you do to beat back the winter blues or perhaps you aren’t effected by them.  Let me know.  Enjoy you day!