I love a big breakfast. And having my first cup of coffee in bed while catching up on things. Comforts are my comfort. Clean spaces and soft lights. Folded clothes and evening cups of tea. Lunch time walks.
Tonight I finished only one of a few audio books I have listened to: Jan Arden’s If I Knew Then. She has a beautiful reading voice- no surprise, I guess. Her singing voice is true and strong. I’m not sure who you might compare her to (possibly Emmy Lou Harris), but she has such strength, creativity, and honesty. I would recommend you listen to Good Mother – just sayin’.
Listening to a book being read by its author is a great privilege, and a new luxury for me. Arden speaks a fair bit of her father- a girl’s nemesis- I guess. Theirs was an awkward and strained relationship, but perhaps most poignant for me was her revelation that she never really knew him, something of which I can relate, as can your Lisa, no doubt.
This morning I awoke earlier than I normally have these past two weeks. No headache, actually limited aches in general- content in the knowing that I am ready to go back to work. For that reason, I am enjoying the tree lights and and relaxing in the quiet.
While I have questions about 2022, they are not urgent. They needn’t be anyway as what’s to be done? Instead I am valuing the time I have, this day, at home, surrounded by what and whom I love.
The wish to stop time is perhaps the dream of many; I know I have wanted to in the past. But, I no longer desire to disrupt the natural order of things as I know what it’s like to be at a stand still with others living their lives around you. It was terrifying.
Who was it that said If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward? Ah yes, another king- Martin Luther King Jr.
I say bring on time’s movement. It’s not that fast that you cannot enjoy the everyday motion around you.
I live in a very beautiful part of this world, where there are still four, specific seasons. These past few days have been especially lovely as a soft Christmas snow falls intermittently, and the birds are unrestrained in their singing. I awake each morning, feeling grateful that I could be safe in my bed as life moved around me.
I am not sure how these letters and conversations are going to develop. Will I speak of mundane details of a typical day in the life of Melissa? Maybe. Will I continue to share my journey of grief with you as my feelings and thoughts and behaviors are beginning to change while time heals? Possibly. Will you become a ghostly stand in for the ideal companion that no longer exists since my husband has died? Could be.
I am holding no real expectation in my heart and mind for the new blog. I have thought of searching out a more current, reliable biography on you, to read as I write these letters; one whose perspective is less bias and less sensational. In that way we might reflect upon the stories of your life as well, not just mine.
I will begin this first of 365 letters to you by sharing my word for 2022. It is meet. Last year’s was joy, just so you have some frame of reference. How will meet appear in my rugs (I am a primitive rug hooker), my life, my art, and my writing, do you think? I never believe any meeting is accidental or coincidental. And I also think that much of what we experience in life, that is people’s paths we cross, challenges we face, things we listen to and see, are actually stepping stones to bigger meetings from the future.
I am thinking you would know a lot about that, even if you might be hesitant to speak of it.
There are so many things I want to do with my art.
Hooking stories and people from my life is probably number 1. Writing and publishing, a very close second. A small business owner is something I come back to in my imaginings everyday. A line of hand sewn products from widow dolls to crazy quilt ties is in my stash of ideas.
Developing and planning is and always has been a huge part of my life. The drain of every day living and bad habits of social media can sometimes steal away that very happy and comforting part of my thinking time.
I have also been rooted in grief for close to three years now. But, as Virginia Woolf says, “I am rooted, but I flow”, and perhaps one of the more unexpected parts of loss has been the finding of time, or shall I say the knowing of the importance of finding the time.
Time for creating.
Time for dreaming.
Time for thinking.
Time for being.
In this static state of healing and loss I have found the freedom to just be.
I have also discovered the power and importance of idea writing. Truthfully, and without too much guilt, I will tell you that often, as I arrive at work and shed layers of clothes and bags and paper, to sit with a second coffee, is when I jot down notes from the thoughts I have had while driving. Perhaps I will draw a rough sketch of something I have seen. It began as a way to process conversations, internally, that I could no longer share with my spouse in a morning text.
I had to find a replacement and thank you, God, I have. And while I could no doubt be using that time more efficiently in terms of work, I can tell you this: that brief time I spend with myself, when I need it, is beneficial to all those I come in contact with as the day progresses, for I am settled.
I often play music from personal playlists on my drive to and from work. It’s usually Elvis Presley compilations. His music has always brought a lot of comfort to me and he inspires me. He encourages me to plan and to prepare for my day. So, this year, I have decided to spend even more time with him by engaging in a routine letter writing activity with the king.
I would like it to be a daily routine. I would like to share excerpts of letters with you each week as I get into the groove of sharing experiences, ideas, and questions with my kingly confidante. I am pumped for this. It will be a departure from my original blog and I hope part of a larger website that will encompass all of my creative ideas.
Time, the taking of it, has brought me so many valuable tools such as hope, renewed faith, perspective, gratefulness, and joy.
These tools have come together, they have met, to settle me, so that I can be at peace.
Thank you for reading and sharing my writing. I hope you will continue to do so in this new and upcoming format.
This morning I began the slow drive to Moncton, in the snow, without winter tires. Frustrated because I had waited too long to get them, but relieved because at least I was working towards getting them on today.
I began to wonder a bit about why I had put off such an important part of our lives, this particular year. In the time since Pat’s death, I had been right on such things, safe in the knowledge that I was doing right by him, and that he would be pleased and proud of how I had taken on the challenge of working out the stuff for which he had always been responsible.
And then I realized I had been in that tight spiral of survival mode when those early decisions and behaviors existed. All I could do was function how Pat would function, had he still been with us; because to me, he had all the answers and did so much for our relationship, family, and home. The little and the big. To succeed, in my mind, was to follow his lead. It was definitely what I needed to do.
Spiral, by definition, means “winding in a continuous and gradually widening (or tightening) curve”. It’s a pattern, and I do love patterns.
So, as I unwound from the only life I thought I ever knew, so did my patterns begin to change. At times I rather threw caution to the wind and was dangerously close to spontaneous combustion .
And the spiral widened and widened. and I had a most enjoyable time road tripping and buying and renovating. Selling and Salvation Army dropping and purging.
Silencing. Listening. Settling.
Do you know the feeling when you enter a roundabout or traffic circle? Especially for the first time, by yourself? The cautious following of signs, doing everything right, and the feeling of exhilaration when you get though to the other side, unscathed?
It is an amazing feeling.
So, the next time you get a bit cocky, go a little faster, and miss a few cues, so that someone blasts a horn at you or flips you the bird.
If you are me, when those things happen, you retreat for awhile, take a different route, or perhaps do not go at all.
The spiral may tighten again, for awhile. But not forever. Not for long.
I have had a long history of running, hiding, and closing up when I feel hurt or scared. I will do anything in the world not to feel that way again. But I have done nothing but harm myself and Bea when I have behaved this way.
There are all kinds of ways to a favorable end. Patrick’s was often a straight, unwavering line. So he would not be traveling on snowy roads in late November to have snow tires installed, with a spouse and child under his watch. He faced those kinds of things head on and simply got them done.
Me? I have an innate fear of car service departments as well as money management. They are old fears based on insecurity and ignorance. And a little bit of procrastination. It’s a pattern that needs a bit of altering, in my mind.
So today, here I am, set up in the light filled car dealership where I bought my first car, all on my own. I am looking after my little family. I made it. Albeit, a month too late in my books. Lesson learned.
But I made a plan, fixed my little mess, and got to where I needed to be.
And more than that, I challenged my ways of thinking and believing. An exercise that can be a lot of hard work. And another reason why it may take longer to get to the desired end. But I will tell you something, this whole process taught me how I can still be successful as I navigate the spiral of life.
November and I have always had a difficult relationship.
It began when my father died on November 19, 1984. For the next 37 years then, interspersed with other close family members dying during this same month,I have associated November with a solemn, grey, stillness. A necessity, to go through, until: destination Christmas.
But, I am rather excited to tell you, that this relationship is evolving. I noticed it first when I looked out into the backyard and saw the red berries on my spreading Hawthorne tree before I saw the bare, leafless branches. I realized then that my perspective, my very outlook on living, was changing.
I was slow to react. Which was good because it gave me a chance to think about what I had been experiencing all fall.
A whole lot of change. A new school. Less time in my home school, which I absolutely love to bits. And more time in a school whose people are like family to me.
But change, even in its goodness, can leave you vulnerable and exhausted with its moments of exhilaration. At least that is my experience and, joy of joys, I recognized it for what it was!
Much of my life, especially the last two and a half years have focused upon surviving, not living. And quite frankly, that is all you can do sometimes. But I hope, not always.
That being said, I have been trying to make things right for 37 years. Sometimes I scored, like in my 30 year relationship with Pat where his love and patience and kindness eased my fears of the unknown. I had a pretty good run.
And then I didn’t. And I haven’t.
But I saw the red before the gray this year and I cannot tell you what that means to me.
Accept to say that I saw the love, in those blood red berries, the love that I have clung to forever it seems.
Please indulge me as I list what I have been experiencing:
Mr. Gregory who faithfully calls me “Mrs.G”
My Twilight curled up on a soft pink blanket in the parlor
Bea looking after the neighbor’s cats
gorgeous, gorgeous sunrises over Weldon Street
Gordon Lightfoot seeing 83
texting with a teenager who needs my support
hearing my smile is and always has been”electric”
watching series on Netflix that are written so well they make me question a few of my beliefs
meeting a friend at Rosie’s Independent Grocery and discussing said series but in the same conversation acknowledging God is with us and works though those we love.
The list goes on and on. My fall has been blessed with those who know me, and still love and care for me.
And, the knowing is what it is all about. It’s the knowing that lifts the grayness to see the passions of red.
I hold the passion. Me. I have things well in hand.
In a classroom of enthusiastic, bubbling- with- life young people, I have learned to say, in a normal speaking voice, “If you can hear my voice, breathe in…” which they do and the room becomes quiet. I offer them the chance to breathe in and out three times. And it works. And I know it will.
Because I listen to my own voice now, take a few deep breaths and know that it’s going to happen, or it’s not, or it may, but in any case, it’s going to be okay.
The other day my daughter and I remembered a blue shirt that Patrick used to wear. It was a striped affair, one I had bought him for Father’s Day or perhaps his birthday. It was so very beautiful on him, so beautiful that I placed it in my mom’s cedar chest, a special place for beloved baby clothes, “blankies”, and wedding dresses. Things of that nature.
Patrick would have been 61 this August and after 3 years, on a day so special, the memories are still very strong.
Today, Bea and I traveled to PEI, her suggestion, as she thought it would make the day go easier. And it did, even though I had a splitting headache this morning and was nauseous three quarters of the way there. It’s rather funny how grief operates, even two and a half years in. The draw to familiar places and routines is so very strong and to ignore or belittle its power can be detrimental.
So, we drove along over the bridge with its overcast skies, presented our appropriate papers and identification, and found ourselves at the traditional stopping place after arriving in PEI, the Tim Horton’s driveway at Borden-Carlton.
You might ask why we put ourselves through this.
I might not be able to tell you except that we just have to in order to make it all right. I know from experience that this will not always be the way. It just has to happen now.
Just like I have to make my profile picture one of Pat,in that blue shirt, around midnight on August 29th.
The month of August is the pits for us. But it is also one of beauty. Someday it will just be beautifully normal. That is so totally how grief rolls .
One of Pat’s favorite singers was Joni Mitchell. So tonight as I remember him on his 61st birthday, drinking one too many rums, I listened to “Blue” thoroughly , for the first time.
And I remembered my beautiful, handsome, kind, funny, and understanding husband in his beautiful blue shirt.
I am a hooker- a primitive rug hooker, that is. My latest rug is called Among the Fiddleheads.
“Do you like fiddleheads?” my brother asked when I sent him pictures of how the project was progressing.
“No”, I replied, “but I think they are one of the most beautiful things in nature.”
When creating a pattern for hooking, I sometimes do not know what the end result will be. That is a departure from my earlier work, but I am less uncomfortable with the unknown now which perhaps accounts for the difference in planning or lack there of, when it comes to creating anyway.
Among the Fiddleheads actually just started with a house, one of Deanne Fitzpatrick’s templates. There was a reason I chose this house. Its style is a common one found throughout rural Nova Scotia and New Brunswick; its characteristics always make me feel loved whenever I come across one, unexpectedly, on a beautiful road trip day.
The lines are simple and elegant, the color is often bold and its moldings become its outline on a clear day. Any way it’s colored, this house style speaks to me.
During the month of May, just passed, I engaged with my elementary students online, and one of our lessons was to create fiddleheads through simple drawings. Their classroom teachers shared videos about the wild, sometimes edible plant as well. It was a fun lesson. I even showed them how to make one out of pipe cleaners. I could have made a zillion of them.
It was a natural next step then to incorporate fiddleheads in my rug hooking. Their whimsy is perfect for my way of speaking.
In his poem “Fiddlehead Ferns”, parts of which I shared with my students during cyber learning, Matthew Dickman writes, “the fiddlehead turns on itself but only ever in love”.
And that is how I feel sometimes when the world, or at the very least, my world becomes too much. To protect myself, and my daughter, and our memories from another time, we need to close up tightly on occasion to feel the love from our other life.
Slowly the unfurling process will happen again. A gentle nudge from the spirits above often get us going again. Or the need to help others in pain.
I believe in signs and have a strong faith. I have seen the ways of Christ in so many people I have encountered and continue to meet. They are as comforting to me as my home. They act upon my own spirit in ways I find too difficult to explain, except to say that these signs are so powerful and yet manifest themselves in the simplest of ways.
An example? I received an email one day from a woman, a new acquaintance through Bea’s church youth group. She had left a book at my door that I was looking for, and just wanted to explain from where it had come.
She signed her communication with “go gently, Ann.”
Go gently? At first I experienced some feelings of paranoia. What had she been hearing, or possibly observing, in Bea?
But then I thought of the Huxley quote I like so much that talks of doing everything lightly, even the hardest things, and I got it. I understood.
And I realized, with her words, that I don’t want to do loud anymore. It has to be gentle and light, touched by those who know what it’s all about. Shabby and worn and loved. That doesn’t mean I cannot deal with the real world- hardly.
But, I am hopeful to have found my center, at least for the present. It involves a lot of observing and listening. And remembering. It’s breathing deeply and often creating. It is waiting on the big things to be absolutely sure, while taking care of the small things to keep it real.
So, among the fiddleheads I am unfurling slowly, mindful of my beautiful vulnerabilities that are really my strengths.
And recognizing those people and their actions, in real time and in hindsight, whose influences are so profound.
Fishing was more than just a pastime for my Patrick. It was his way of recording time and events. I have several notebooks, his fishing journals, that meticulously document not only his successes and near misses, but those of his friends and family as well.
The writing is cramped and so very hard to read. But it is a gift to me and to Bea and to many others who are spoken of so fondly and lovingly in the many passages that span from 1995 until April 2019.
He had already obtained his fishing licence before he died almost three years ago now, and he had prepared his journal in this way:
April 14- GET LICENCE AT CAN TIRE ($27.50)
*SMELTS- ______________/TRIPS 1 *
Pat’s method of organization made sense to him. He used the tally system so the lines and spaces, had he lived, would have been filled with his meticulous recordings to share with the proper officials at the end of the fishing season.
He continues to write on that same day, April 14th, 2019, that the water is cold and there are no fish. There are no smelts either. He had asked his brother Paul to come, but he had a cold. He also says that his sister-in-law Judy had good reports on her health, but that Judy’s sisters, sadly, did not.
And there is Pat, my beautiful, caring, kind Pat, the saint of our lives, recording the lives of others as he lives his own.
He also had a habit of using ALL capital letters in words that he wanted to emphasize. Thus when I read his work, I can hear his voice AND see that left hand racing across the page to get his thoughts down.
Much of Pat’s fishing experiences were spent with his brothers and father. He was always eager to fish with others however, and his journals are showered with people whom he has taken to, maybe not his favorite haunts (a fisherman does have his secrets) but to those areas where a friend or newbie would achieve success.
And sometimes his writing read like a Hemingway novel in its beautiful simplicity and present tense:
The beginning of the 2015 season for me, is non-existent. The late and heavy winter weather has left piles of snow everywhere. Rivers and lakes are still mostly snow and ice covered. This week the weather is due to be seasonal normal (8 degrees) or better. The maple syrup season is delayed by approximately 1 month so I expect any good fishing will be the same (`~ May 1st). We have seen geese and robins but there is a fear that birds will starve as bare ground (worms and grass) will not be around. Yesterday we had Paul and Judy over for a POST-Easter dinner.
And then… this description of his newly camouflaged fishing vest and its contents shows his adoring attention to detail and preparation when it came to fishing:
Dye my CRYSTAL RIVER VEST Green from TAN/WHITE- going to stop using my BAG (too small) and load the vest w TOOLS/TIPPETS/FLY BODIES/CAMERA/BEAR SPRAY/NET/NIPPERS/FLY FLOAT & LICENSE. (SAT/MAY28/17)
And of course, his memories, laughter, and humour shown for his brother, who was was always his first choice as a fishing partner were the best. I can remember listening in on countless hours of very animated phone conversations where they relived the great catches and those that got away- this after they had spent the whole morning afternoon or evening together!
Blessed? You bet!
One spring Patrick wanted to take part in a casting contest at the maritime sport show in Halifax. Weeks before the little competition, he practiced! During his lunch he would cast his rod in a large warehouse at his work. One day when he went out to practice, some of the fellas had placed cardboard fish on the floor for him to “Catch”. He thought that was so great, I remember.
And I remember Paul telling me how the crowd backed him during the competition, oohing and awing with his hits and misses. That’s our Pat, always drawing a crowd wherever he went, I remember Paul saying to me.
I seldom went fishing with Pat. It just wasn’t my thing. And besides, it was his time to unwind from the varied stresses of life.
But I do remember the sights and sounds of the prepping: the whine of the fishing line as yards and yards of it came out from the reel to detangle, or the smell of mothballs in the attic space where he tied his own flies, or the fast scribbling in his journal at night, to record the day’s events.
So so very blessed to know this man who would take the time to record such detail of life.
Recently my job has taken me to Bass River, once a week, to work with students and staff, a wonderful experience for which I am so very thankful. Very close to the school is a road that takes you to “Saints Rest”, one of Patrick’s very favorite bass fishing spots. On certain days it is a comfort to me to drive up the road, to its location and be with Pat. It is one of the places I feel the closest to him, especially when the water sparkles like diamonds.
Fishing was such a solace for Pat. And those journals he kept are a record of that solace. They are also a portal into the life of a man whom very few people really knew. I can tell you how kind and gentle he was, and many of you experienced that kindness. He was also so very quick and smart with his one liners and jokes.
He was so very bright and understood me to a “t”, and I miss him so very, very much.
He was also a beautiful writer.
And a sparkling diamond in our lives.
Our Saint Patrick.
Please join me in raising a glass to his memory today.
Moses and God had a unique relationship. I think you might say it was one of mutual admiration. As Moses and his lord worked out details for the trek to the promised land, God only appeared to Moses through a cloud. As plans became finalized, Moses asked if he could see God’s face. To which God answered no; no one can and live. But he did allow Moses to stand in a specified area, covered in such a way so he would see God’s back”. (Exodus 33 NVM)
I have been reading Learning to Pray, A Guide for Everyone by James Martin, SJ. I am almost half way through and have gotten to his explanation of the daily examen. I was not raised a Catholic and for years believed it to be a very confining and strict religion, whose main teachings centered upon feelings of shame and guilt.
I watched my husband respect his mother’s devout Catholic ways, and as I have said in a previous blog, he was a good Catholic boy to his mom. But he had questions and anger along with shame and guilt for having those very doubts. I believe it was something he tussled with on some level until the day he died. And that’s just not the way your relationship with God should be. There is no room for shame in any area of a person’s life; guilt maybe, although I am even less sure about that now.
Enter the teachings and writings of Father James Martin, SJ. I cannot even remember from where he came accept it was getting close to Lenten season one year, and I was looking for some solace and understanding after the loss of my mother from the previous Easter. I picked out Jesus, A Pilgrimage from the bookstore shelf, and my journey into the life of Jesus, the man, those three years leading up to His crucifixion and resurrection, began.
As did my reading relationship with Father James who has helped unravel some of the mysteries, and yes, atrocities, of the Holy Catholic Church; he has also shown me the power of the human Jesus and consequently the power of prayer when speaking to the divine, be it with Jesus directly, his mother, or one of the many saints I have read about in Martin’s books.
What a richer, far peaceful, and more tolerant person I have become.
You will see me pass.
An ancient practice from the early Church, The Daily Examen has been adapted a number of ways, but its basic premise is to stop and examine your day and God’s presence in it by being present, grateful, and willing to review every aspect of your day. In this way, you may see patterns of behavior that you appreciate in yourself or that may need to be fine tuned. It’s time spent with God as “ignited” by the Jesuit scholar and saint, Ignatius Loyola, who believed it to be God’s gift to all.
I see value in the examen, which I had learned about before Patrick’s passing, but fell away from in the trenches of my grieving. Martin’s book has reminded me again of its power, however, especially in the many ways God passes through my life everyday. I may be only seeing his back, but in those quiet hours of darkness and silence, or when I am writing in my journal, I recognize His consistent presence in my life.
And it is so very soothing to me: the sound of a mourning dove; soft breathing ; a gentle motion, word or touch.
You will see me pass.
My Bea says when she pictures God, they are a giant heart with two hands, one the color of the night sky, and one the color of bones. I have always pictured God and Jesus as separate entities, both male; I feel closer to Jesus and His teachings than I do to the God of those Old Testament stories, violent and punishable.
So, it was interesting to begin this blog so easily picturing God and Moses struggling to compromise. According to Martin being able to imagine yourself present as Jesus taught, or as Noah built, or as Lot’s wife looked back, is one of the most powerful ways to commune with the Holy Spirit.
I believe it to be so:
Physically he is tall, and yes, for me, male. He is so very gentle in his movements, emphasized by the soft movements of his long coat or robe. It’s dark, and blends in with the night. And while I cannot see his face, it’s turned in such a way that I know he sees, a downward glance, to the right.