Closing the Book(s): ‘Maybe I can paint over that’

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Today is a milestone.  The 14th anniversary of the day Mark and I were married and promised each other happily ever after. We had it – for almost 13 years. I am forever grateful for those days. We didn’t waste a single moment. It was as though we knew that our time was limited. We finally understood those sappy love songs and cheesy chick flicks.  It’s been one year, three months, and fourteen days since he died, and I am still grateful.

I learned a lot. I learned to take chances and trust that things were going to work out; and to let go and expect that things were going to be okay;  and that if there were two ways to take something someone said, to just take it the good way until or unless proven different. And to relax and stop worrying and enjoy now.  (Okay – that skill is still kind of new.)

And to let go.

Along the way, I gained two more children, albeit mostly grown, DeLynn and Patrick, and added them to my brood of three, Jenni, Sterling, and HalleyAnna. And today, I am so proud of each of them for who they have grown to be.

And a perfect dog, Barkley: a three time recidivist at the local animal shelter. Mark picked him out, despite gentle warnings from the staff of his “rap sheet,”  and from the day he came home with us, he has been The Perfect Dog. Kudos go to Dog School Austin, for helping him along. More on him in a later blog.

Today is also tax day for millions of Americans. As a recovering worrier, I went ahead and filed and paid my whopping tax bill at the beginning of this month. But that didn’t stop me from thinking about today with a sense of closure and finality.

This was our last “married-filing-jointly” tax return.  I know that actually I could have set this date as January 1, because that was when I officially became “single-filing alone” or whatever that designation is.  But I am making the rules here. So today is a good day for this transition.

There is no doubt that I am a better person for having loved Mark.  I am stronger and more resilient, and maybe I am starting to experience that concept of post-traumatic growth that I have been reading about.

The last year and three months and fourteen days have been a roller coaster. Or maybe more of a Tilt-A-Whirl. The year began with Mark’s sudden and unexpected death and ended with the release of the Delbert McClinton biography, One Of The Fortunate Few, with celebrated reviews and book tours.  I could not have written a better ending for the hellacious year than spending it celebrating the book with Delbert and Wendy.

Through the year,  I stumbled and mumbled my way through one son’s heart transplant, one daughter’s divorce and another daughter’s job loss. And was able to celebrate another daughter’s engagement, and a son’s new job and relocation to Austin.  Today, Sterling is healthy and taking great advantage of his second chance in life; Jenni is happy and strong; DeLynn has an amazing new position with a “the sky’s the limit” firm; HalleyAnna is writing sweet love songs; and Patrick is settling comfortably in to a South Austin lifestyle.  Here’s to finding your happiness, kiddos.

Through the last year,  my mantra has been,”It’s going to be okay.”  I said it to myself about 3 million times. Thanks to those friends who managed to hang around when hanging around me was more than tedious and that mantra became more than redundant. Thank you to those patient souls who propped me up and gave me something to lean on, and made me laugh and let me cry.

And among those friends, there has been a handful who have let go of the bicycle and showed me that I can ride it by myself – but hey –  thanks for running along beside it, just in case I fell. You are my champions.

I could have done some things differently in the last year. I could have been smarter and more frugal and and and… Hindsight being 20-perfect, and all that. But I wouldn’t wish for a do-over, thank you. And when it comes to some of the missteps and mistakes – in the words of Guy Clark, “Maybe I can paint over that…”

So today is a transition. I celebrate our anniversary – and tax day. And prepare to move into the next chapter.  I hold on to those precious memories and look forward to what is around the bend.  I am moving from that mantra of “It’s going to be okay,” to “It IS okay.”

It really is. I find myself feeling happy without even trying. And I am grateful. And I am not feeling guilty for feeling good again.  It’s been a long time coming. I’m grateful, and kind of excited, wondering what is up ahead.  I’m open to suggestions.

Delbert McClinton says that he doesn’t write blues songs that are sad. He writes blues songs that offer hope that it is going to get better and be okay:  “…It’s all right, cause it’s midnight and I’ve got two more bottles of wine.”

So here goes.

Hold my wine glass and watch this.

 

Listening to: One of the Fortunate Few by Delbert McClinton

 

Resolutions, revelations and restorations.

One of the handy options in WordPress is the ability to write headlines when we don’t have time to actually sit down and write an entire blog.  Later, we can come back and jog our memories and write something profound – or doodle around the margins until something sticks to the page. That is how it usually works. But today,  an old headline brought with it much more meaning than originally intended.

This weekend, I sat down and started to putter through the dusty corners of this long-neglected online diary.  I have been in quite a slump and have not been able to write much of anything. Maybe I can kickstart my brain by playing with this blog.

I had last logged in on April 1.   That was the day I had written an email to close friends and family members about Mark and how he died. I pasted it into blog form. Before that, it was late January, when I pasted the words I said at Mark’s memorial service.  But I  never got around to hitting “publish” on either one of them. Until today.

Then, I went back to look at some drafts and headlines from Before. Resolutions, revelations and restorations. This was a headline/idea I saved on January 2, 2017.  In case you have not been following along, that was Before.

I wonder now what  my resolutions would have been if I’d taken the time that day to write some words.  Mark’s foot surgery. Trips to the beach and Texas hill country. A refresher course for Barkley at Dog School Austin. Some landscaping around the pool. And regular entries in this blog.

Those plans seem pretty unremarkable in the After.

Knowing that my only faithful reader is my good friend, Janice Williams, I think she would have written back and jokingly complained about me kicking her into gear and we would have agreed to be better about writing this year. Sometime between then and now, I have misplaced my resolutions.  The bulk of my revelations have involved gut-punches. But there have been some major restorations along the way.

Resolutions 2017:2.0: To-do lists, phone numbers, probate, refinance and other tasks fill three Moleskine journals,  as my resolutions have gone from us-plans to basic survival skills. There was a moment early on when  I thought I might write down actual feelings and work my way through this somehow.  That was a frivilous thought. I could barely write my name. One day, I wrote out a check for the housekeeper and didn’t even recognize my own signature. Even my handwriting has changed. The thought of going in to change my signature card at the bank crossed my mind. Add it to the to-do list.

I am marking some of those perennial resolutions off my list forever. You know, the ones that come back every year. They are not nearly as important as they were Before. Who really cares if I organize the garage  – this year or never. Starting now, I am going to work on putting one foot in front of the other every day.  I am going to heal. And see where I go from here.

Revelations: I have a bucket full of these.  And many are blessings. Women. Friends. Sisters.  This is family.  Real people who may or may not be related by blood, but are really Here. And who say and do the right things. Or nothing at all.  Those who do the dirty work with and for me, like juggling their schedules around the probate court. And those who email and call and insist that I really should go out for frozen pizza at an old friend’s house, or to a girls’ night slumber party out in the country – to chicken dip in a pool, and laugh at and with ourselves. (By the way, I learned a new phrase this week: toC chicken-dip is to skinny-dip in your bra and panties.)

And those who let me cry. And be angry. And sad. Those friends ask how I am today — rather than a simple “How are you doing?” And they tell me they think I am doing better.  And in spite of myself, sometimes I believe them. I may not be better than last year, but I am definitely better than last January.

Restorations: The  most obvious is that I have a fabulous new Talavera-tiled bathroom. My bedroom en suite reminds me of San Miguel de Allende. A good place. It’s bright and cheerful and warm, and I know that Mark would love it as much as  I do.

I have successfully rearranged the furniture in most of the rooms in the house, and even though the living room arrangement is anything but Feng Shui,  I was just going for different.  I didn’t want to walk in and immediately look for Mark in his familiar place on the recliner. And no. The arrangement really doesn’t work this way, and I have stubbed my toe on the corner of the displaced ottoman several times. So yes, I am probably going to rearrange it again sometime this month.

The first hundred days were a fog. I don’t remember details but can look back in Moleskines and be reminded of important names – of coroners and mortuaries,  probate judges and appraisers, and painters and tile masons and plumbers.

The main restoration I am working on is The Second Hundred Days. Along the way, the kids and I were all together when we realized that we were on Day 98. Someone pointed out that we had come pretty far from that horrific first day. Looking back, I guess we had. The meltdowns had grown further apart, the tears were no longer several times a day,  and the construction crews had quit coming in waves.

Today, we are almost halfway through the Second Hundred Days. In fact, I am writing this on Day 141. After.

Somewhere along this journey,  I decided that this  hundred days would be my chapter of Revelations: The Time of Me. I have started going to a sweaty, no-frills gym and am trying to take better care of myself. I redid my office and am getting more organized. And looking at ways to make myself stronger, happier and more secure, in all aspects of life. And I am struggling to learn to let myself have some fun along the way.   I really do want to learn to be happy again. Recognizing that I have to “learn” is a step in the right direction. I am grateful for those who offer to help.

I don’t know what Forever will look like. I don’t even believe in Forever anymore. I have lost a lot of faith in a lot of basics that I once took for granted. Mark and I promised each other we would never take one another for granted. We kept that promise till  the last time I spoke with him.  We knew all along that  we would not have as long as we wanted- but Mark always believed in Forever more than I did. He knew he would have my heart as long as he lived. I guess I always knew the reality. I would likely outlive him. And I wanted more.

I am tired of the “how to grieve” gift books. A mountain of these books sits next to my reading chair in the living room. Grief guides tend to be like travel books, telling you what is around the next bend.  This is not a trip – like DisneyWorld in Three Days or A Week in Kaua’i.  Some of the well-meaning titles are really bad. And I have come to realize most of the advice just doesn’t work for me. So far, I have found two books that I will carry with me through this journey: Sheryl Sandberg’s Option B and Anne Morrow Lindberg’s Gifts from the Sea.

I am weary – and wary –  of platitudes. I am tired of being angry when people ignore what happened.  Or say, “I know how you feel.” Or compare this to someone else they know who lost a kitten or a mother or a grandfather or even a spouse through natural, albeit sudden causes.

No.

It. Is. Not. The. Same.

And I know now that I will never be the same. I am different now. It’s not easy. But it could be worse. I see improvement. I am not sitting on the ground in the front yard sobbing. That deliniation between Before and After will always be January 3, 2017. I will never look at the New Year with the kind of excitement I did before.

But I made it through the memorial. And Valentine’s Day. And our wedding anniversary. And Easter and Mother’s Day and a couple of our kids’  birthdays. And I am still standing –  most of the time.  Maybe that is a good enough goal for now.

It’s After.

And i am still here.

 

_______

Listening to In This Life by Israel Kamakawiwo’ole

 

 

 

 

 

 

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