Conversation

Each time I attempt to add a blog, to get back to something that was vital to my days, a communication with appreciated readers, I give up knowing that the line between maudlin and honest emotion can be thin.

Time does not heal. Time drags, weighing on the soul. Time questions the belief in the future, a future able to hold a measure of peace, let along any measure of joy.

I want my Bob back in my life. I want to talk to him no matter that our conversations were mostly me talking and Bob looking at me either smiling or frowning. Economy of words, yes, but a heart that loved me without reservation. Who possibly deserves such a gift? Not me.

I yearn–absolutely yearn–for one more conversation. He needs to know that Mark and Chris take care of me. He needs to know that Mark and Chris really take care me. He would love them more if I could tell him about their phone calls, their advice, their support, their strength. He would laugh and frown at our fantasy of a little hotel in a particular United States possession, walking the beach, sharing the work so we could get to the play part. Guess who gets to clean the rooms? Guess who doesn’t care?

Bob needs to know that Dan and Paul absolutely stay with me in every way that is possible for them, attentive, caring, checking. Each has welcomed me into their lives in new and caring ways.

Bob needs to know that I ache with sorrow over not appreciating him as I should have done. He simply went about the business of living in his quiet, dogged way, mending, repairing, building, handling what was to be handled.

Bob handled living and he handled the process of dying with the same quiet, dogged and Bob-like way. I want to go back and appreciate how he did that. I want to cook his favorite food and bake a big batch of cookies that he liked.

I want one more chance to say, “I love you.” I want one more touch, one more time to reach over and touch his warmth. I want to see the way he looked at me in response to that touch. I want one more chance to say, “I love you.”

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A Life

Robert Bob Andy Grandpa Papa
July 25, 1935
October 21, 2010

Son
Brother
Uncle
Friend
Husband
Father In Law
Step Parent
Grandfather
Member of the military
Railroad switch-man
Pilot
Flight instructor
Helicopter pilot
Glider instructor
Target Shooter
Marksman
Hunter
Handyman extraordinaire
Tool maker
Wine maker
Brewer
Gardener
Volunteer
Re-loader
Wood craftsman
Fisherman
Frugal spendthrift
Collector
Avid reader
Loner
Beloved
Ox Strong
Mule Stubborn
Gentle
Tender
Full-time generous heart
Part-time major grump

Full time searcher of new knowledge
Part time stubborn stick-in-the-mud

Aficionado of music
Refused to dance
Amazing smile hidden in a protective cover-up frown
Tolerant, accepting yet held his prejudices close to the vest

Not much of a listener and less of a talker
Loved his ready-made family to the core of his being
And more…so much more…enough man for multiple lifetimes. I miss him.

I Believe

Alan Stark wrote I Believe.

On page 128, Stark wrote:
“I believe the definition of a friend is someone you call when you have really great news or really sad news.”

On page 111, Stark wrote: “I believe couples should hold hands at least three minutes every day.”

On page 156, Stark wrote: “I believe that memories are treasures worth more than gold.”

Three is that good number, the one that can mesh the unrelated and find a new truth. So I have an addendum to Alan’s beliefs, my big three for today.

I check myself off the definition of a friend. Today has been one of the saddest days of the last 11 months. There is no one I will phone to share the sadness. There is no one with whom I have that kind of comfort. There is no one to whom I could even begin that conversation, share that deep and penetrating loss.

Holding hands is vital, an intimacy to be cherished. Going out alone today, I did a virtual hand holding via four area wide garage sale events. Bob loved them. We trudged up the driveways as he searched for his bargain of the day and until he was too worn to continue. I bought three things just so the experience would be true, a book, a light switch, a leather purse. Three dollars ventured and a memory gained.

That brings me to those memories worth more than gold. My brain is odd. My memories are rarely specific in detail but definitely specific in feelings. Bob and I had two love stories, one in youth and the second in middle age and onto his last years. Between those chapters, I had another love story with a good man, the father of my children.

Today is not really an empty day. It is a day of far too many memories, far too much emotion, far too heavy with a sadness I cannot shake. I feel ashamed, weak, to be as I am today. Wonder why the amazing goodness that is so much a part of my life cannot handle the overflow of memories?

I believe that time as healer is a ruse. What really happens is that we get really good at covering over, pretending and doing make-believe. Today is my birthday and I want what I cannot have. I miss him.

Her Journal

About a year before Bob died, an acquaintance experienced the death of her husband. Because we shared an ongoing activity we also shared many conversations about her grief. She told me that she started a journal in which she wrote about every aspect of passage.

For this blog, her name is Karita. She is in her seventies, has grown children, attends church, is a constant volunteer and reaches out with open friendship. Her husband, Ray, with no advance warning symptoms, died at home.

When Bob died, Karita opened her journal. The writing is harsh, angry, filled with pain. Her attempts to excuse what she perceived as abandonment by friends does fail her even as she tries to understand with compassion. There are even pages of self blame as she wrote about her failure to adequately express her needs.

As expected the early journal entries poured grief and loneliness onto the page. Fear and uncertainty overshadowed everything but most days ended with comfort, a list of names offering “Whatever you need, just ask. You are in our prayers.”

“But I don’t know what to ask…I am too lost to figure out what I need…help me…do something…do anything but do something…don’t pray for me…help me…give me your friendship, your time…damn the words you give me about time and tears and triumph…I gag at your audacity telling me that I will find a new normal while you do nothing to take me there…don’t speak to me about anything except about what actions you are doing to show me that my pain is important to you…cram the cheerful stuff…I need help.”

Karita never told her friends how she felt. She told her journal holding little back as she learned to understand that friends spoke the words, did not rally but moved back…moved away from her emotional needs.

Karita took my hand, blinked back her tears and spoke with a softness that only pain can produce.
“You are alone”, she said. “Your old friends won’t speak it, but they have no room for you now. You have become casual to them. You have family and maybe some neighbors, but your old friends are old now…gone except to use platitudes and then pretend like you don’t exist. Don’t believe? Count. Count what you have experienced as you hoped for their help.”

Karita invited me to a grief support group. I went once. Last Tuesday. Tonight should have been the second time, but I am here. Not there. Not in a room full of strangers gathered to talk about an unavoidable human commonality…death. I cannot build on death.

A Love Story

Seven months and seven days of  living with a new love, a newly discovered man of depth and richness.  The discovery, layered in moments of that breathless ache, threatened to consume.

When a partner is unwell the shared days and nights become lessons in management, in make-do, in setting priorities, in hiding truth.  Things like house and property upkeep silently slip to the bottom of the list.  Promises to clear out the accumulations of a life time are forgotten.

No more excuses.  The time was mine and I set an auction date, clueless as to what was ahead. Manic with energy  to mask the grief, my mission was clean up, clear out, match the emptiness.

Here, in the clutter of bags and boxes, some dating to 1972, was this man–this man rich in talents and diverse interests.

Dog tags from his time in The United States Army, trophies won for cribbage and dominoes, pilot licenses both private and commercial, helicopter and plane,  log books teaching others to fly, mounds of hand drawn schematics, books to identify birds, wild animals, plants, hunting, fishing, tying flies, building fly rods, wood carving, tools designed and created to match a need, mementos of his friendship with Jack and Russ.  The collection of Heritage House books brought a memory of how he held a book,  any book,  with a kind of reverence.

In a chapter of our personal once upon a time, we made beer and wine.  His records were meticulous right down to the important detail of how long the brew lasted–the truest measure of quality.  Next to that box, I found his collection of daily missals and his letter sweater dating back to Bishop Ward High School days.  Family pictures were in every drawer tucked where he kept reminders.

And then there were the things he collected simply because they were beautiful.  Glassware, pottery, tools, pictures, antiques— all holding the magic of  what came before.

The list of discoveries is a rediscovery of a man I had lost in the passage through  health issues.  Deterioration pushed from all sides.   How very sorry and ashamed I am for letting that man slip away from me, for not always remembering and honoring all that he was.

Robert N. Antonopoulos, 1935 – 2010    I love you.

If Ever I Would Leave You…

it would never be in springtime….

Bob rarely talked of favorite music but he listened with a practiced ear and knowledge of the beauty.  He even owned a bust of Beethoven, which I rudely relegated to the attic.  Shame on me.

Once, a very long time ago, he gave me a record—“If Ever I Would Leave You.”  The words are breaking my heart.  I miss him more in this moment than I have on any day since he did leave me–in autumn, our favorite season.

Every spring, we worked the place side by side, sometimes late into the evening.  I can hardly stand it right now, knowing that I have to handle it alone yet absolutely knowing that I cannot handle it without him.

Sam, age 4, is having a sleep-over and I have struggled with fighting the tears, hiding the emotional stuff.  About two hours ago, I saw Bob standing in the yard, dumb slouch farmer hat, hitching his jeans, and chugging water.  Talk about choked up.   About that moment, Sam asked me something about his water shooter and my answer stopped him short.

“What voice is that, Nana?  Where is your real voice?  That voice was crackly?”  This from a little boy who still believes that Papa will get away from those guys keeping him in heaven, that Papa will come back to us.

Maybe.  Maybe Sam knows something I need to learn.

…it would never be in springtime.  No, I could never leave in springtime…

Rings On My Finger

I am a chronologically old woman, 7 decades measured and counting. Growing up in a nurturing protected neighborhood, that mythical village, my siblings and I shared the blessing of never having quite enough, of always being required to try harder.

Political correctness came long  years later and our discipline included the occasional ‘good spanking’ to teach a lesson.   The culture of that time believed in ‘spare the rod and spoil the child’, especially in questions of attitude.  Mom and Dad struggled as the country climbed from the depression, giving us the best that was theirs to give.

We received our early formal education and training from women of the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth.    Jesuits and Benedictines handled a large part of our college educations.  Discipline and humility held up the foundation.

Two marriages to two good men gave my life balance, reality checks and the richness of ‘for better and for worse’.   Each marriage extended my  family and I am grateful for what I have learned from each member of that very large group.

Marriage gave me the most precious gifts of my life–my five children.  Each of them fills me with awe and appreciation.  Their gifts are strong and enduring.  Life situations have not always treated them gently, but they handle what happens and they move through it.

My education provided me with a paycheck for doing what I would liked to have been able to do for free.  Teaching was a 28 year ‘fire-in-the-belly’ that never banked.

Through my time from childhood to crone I have often been overwhelmed by the generosity of  friends, colleagues, neighbors and acquaintances.   These past four months are powerful life lessons in the blessings of enduring support.

And now?  Now I am Grandma/Nana.  No one could be more blessed by the lives of the five grandchildren who gave me my new titles.  With my wedding band, I wear a five stone mother’s ring given to me about 30 years ago.  Next to those two rings,  I wear a five stone grandmother’s ring that I gave to myself 18 years ago.

Rings on my finger, blessing of my life.