Thursday, July 31, 2014

Piecing My Life Back Together

Dear John,
 
I had my ninety-day evaluation at work today and everything was good. I met or exceeded expectations in every category. I was especially commended for my work ethic and people skills. I suppose that comes from all those years of working with patients and physicians, and always understaffed. They seem happy to have me.
 
Piecing my life back together . . .
And I'm happy to be there. I really do love this job.  I look forward to going to work. I enjoy what I do - it's prefect for my anal retentive personality, and there is a lot of variety and interesting stuff to learn. And I like the people I work with - I'm old enough to know that you can't overestimate the importance of that, especially in a job with so few employees. I can see myself working there for a long time.
 
I feel like I'm slowly piecing together some kind of life. I love my job, I'm financially solvent, I have the a rhythm down for the yard work and errands, and I'm knitting again. The housework isn't always up to my standards, but I'm learning to loosen my standards when necessary. Some dust and furballs never killed anybody. Jethro's habit of collecting kittens doesn't help that, but they're worth it. What I'm piecing together isn't the life I wanted. But I'm doing okay with the one I have, and that's progress. At least, it feels like progress. And it feels good.
 
I'll be off to bed soon. Tomorrow's Friday, so I have to be there at 7:15 instead of 7:30. I'll be at the drive-up again, but I'm off at 5:00 instead of 6:00. Fridays are so busy that the time passes quickly. I have the weekend off and don't need to mow, so I may get some neglected housework done. And if you can get a hall pass and come for a visit, I still promise to put on a flannel nightgown just for you.
 
Adore you,
Joan.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Maxine, Flannel, & Orange Polo Shirts

Dear John,
 
I worked my half-day today, then came home and mowed. It's been too dry for the grass to be growing so I mowed seed heads off of the weeds. Whatever it was, it needed mowing. I still need to trim and weed, but since I'm getting over the tummy bug I decided to take it a bit easier today.
 
I found this and had to show it to you. You were my very very favorite lawnmower, you know. You never went shirtless - when you had radiation in college, you were told to never expose your chest and back to sun. But you weren't the shirtless type anyway. You lived in jeans or khakis with solid polo shirts. It's hard to imagine you in anything else. You had suits and dress shirts and ties, and wore them when it was appropriate. But I always think of you in jeans and polo shirts. To me, that is you.
 
So you mowed in your oldest jeans and your most ragged, stained polo shirts. That's why I couldn't throw out your old orange one. I remember when it got so bad that I consigned it to "yard work only" status. And I watched you work in it for so many years after that, that I couldn't bear to part with it. Orange was a departure for you, and the color was a spectacular failure - you look as bad in orange as I do. But now I love that shirt because I saw you do yard work in it for so many years. It's funny what ends up having meaning, isn't it? I wonder what in my closet you'd feel attached to.
 
Come tonight, go through my closet, and tell me what is meaningful for you. I know some of my pajamas and nightgowns are favorites of yours, mostly the flannel ones. You always loved me in flannel nightgowns. If you visit tonight, I'll wear flannel for you even in July.
 
Willing to wear flannel in July for you,
Joan.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Wedding Rings & Scatty Things

Dear John,
 
Today was "Son of Dysentery & Dishcloths." I finally got to sleep last night after I threw up at 2 AM, and I thought that was the end of it. It wasn't. I called in from the bathroom again. They're being very nice and sympathetic about it. And nobody wants me spreading this any farther. So I slept until 10:00, stayed in bed until I could get away from the bathroom, and knitted, napped, and watched an Animal Planet marathon. Sound familiar?
 
This evening I was listening to Pandora and heard "Nights in White Satin." One part struck me: "Streets full of people, some hand in hand. Just what I'm going through they can't understand. Some try to tell me thoughts they cannot defend." I know it wasn't written by or about widows. But that is very true for all of us. We don't mind when the non-widows don't understand - we didn't either until it happened to us. All we want is for people to understand that they can't understand. When people try to should me, I want to say, "Thank you! And how long have YOU been widowed?"
 
Lately my mind has been going back to all of the people who think that it's creepy that I'm still in love with you. Thank goodness, the people I work with don't think that, possibly because most of them knew you. But most people do think that. Becky found this, and it sums up wonderfully just how I feel.

And speaking of you waiting for me, I've been pondering something else. You know I had you buried in your wedding ring. I couldn't bear to take it off of your hand or see your hand without it. I think I'd like to be buried in mine, too. That way, when the general resurrection comes, we'll both be wearing our wedding rings. I'd hate to come to you and find you wearing your ring and not be wearing mine.

That's probably enough rambling for one night - sorry to be so scatty. To sum up: I'm still sick, I'm still in love with you, I'm still your wife. No surprises there, huh? I hope the tummy virus has run its course. No other status changes are expected!

Still in love,
Joan.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Of Dysentery & Dishcloths

Dear John,
 
I stayed home from work today. I woke up with the worst diarrhea I've had since salmonella in college. I had to call in from the bathroom. It's been going around at work - Abe must have breathed on me before they sent him home sick on Saturday. And it's moving backwards on me. It started as a lower-GI bug and now I'm starting to get upper-GI problems. I especially hate missing Mondays. I love Monday because there's always a huge stack of night-drops, and I enjoy processing those. Strange, I know. Jen was the same way when she worked there; she must have gotten it from me.
 
After I was able to be more than a few feet from the bathroom, I transitioned to the living room couch and watched an Animal Planet marathon. And I got my knitting out for the first time in months. It's odd that grief has included an inability to knit. But I have to knit now. When we were going through your mother's house, all of the women were talking about her dishcloths and how much they would miss them. So I have picked up dish cloth duty. Nobody knows that I'm doing it. But I've started working on them so I'll have enough to send everybody a few for Christmas. I'd like to get about thirty-five made by then. I'll need to go shopping for more crochet thread.
 
There's one more thing. When Jethro found Maggie, I was not thrilled. I couldn't leave the little creature out there to die; there was no question that I was going to bring her home and take care of her. But I didn't need another cat. Well, like Princess Buttercup, she's quite a winning creature. I have fallen in love with the little thing. I still wish Jethro would get a paper route so he can make a financial contribution. But I can't imagine life without her. She'd adorable.
 
So pass the news on to our mothers that I'm glad to have my third cat and I'm making dishcloths for the whole family. There should be relief all around. And please pray for me, that my tummy settles before morning. We need to stop passing this thing around.
 
Loving you amidst cat hair and crochet thread,
Joan.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Storms, Humitidy, & Waverly Sanitorium

Dear John,
 
It's been a quiet Sunday. I did some coughing and wheezing in the middle of the night so I had to stay home this morning. I slept in until 10:00, then I got the laptop and all of us piled up in the bed except Maggie, who was asleep in her new favorite spot on the headrest of your recliner.
 
It's been hot and humid today so I decided to let mowing wait. Storms came through this afternoon, and next week is supposed to be in the seventies and drier. And as usual this time of the summer, it isn't the grass that needs mowing. It the tall seed heads on the weeds. They can wait a day or two.
 
The highlight of the day was talking to Donna. We met on the first day of eighth grade, and I wonder what we would have thought if anybody had told us that we'd still be talking on the phone forty-six years later. There are very few people who have known me so long and so well. And she still admits it in public, bless her! I think we first connected over sports - very few eighth-grade girls are serious about their sports. 
 
Donna and I hope to make trouble together next year when I get some vacation days. I want to go to Kentucky and see her and Becky and Alan, and Donna and I are talking about touring Waverly Sanitorium. There's talk about developing it, and I want to see it before they remuddle it. I love old hospitals just as they are, thank you. I don't care a pin about the stories about it being haunted. I just love, love, love old hospitals!
 
And I just realized that I'm looking forward to things again. The depression and anxiety are gone, and it feels amazing to feel like myself again. During that month of severe depression I lost thirty pounds. Yes, thirty pounds in one month. When I get sad I eat comfort food, but with severe depression I don't eat. The weight loss has slowed down, of course, but I'm still losing. My skinny jeans are loose on me! I have a stack of clothes that I need to take up. It's a lovely problem to have.
 
You might do me a favor - ask Mama if she could drop by and help me take up those clothes. It's so much easier when you have somebody else to pin things on you. She and I always enjoyed sewing together. She preferred the machine part and I preferred the hand sewing, so we made a good team. I can't imagine not being able to make and alter your own clothes. I'm so thankful I had an old-fashioned upbringing.
 
So give her my love and thanks. And come with Donna and me when we tour Waverly Sanitorium. I know you - you'll love it!
 
Hugs and kisses,
Joan.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Contentment and Peaches

Dear John,
 
It's Saturday evening, and I'm relaxed and contented.
 
I worked my half-day today. The animals were delighted when I came home a little after noon. I'm feeling better - my cough went away - but I'm still really tired, so I've spent most of the day relaxing with cats and dogs stretched out on me. I need to mow but the weather didn't cooperate. We had some storms early this afternoon and got a good hard rain, so there will be no mowing today. I'm not disappointed.
 
Friday and Saturday evenings have been the easiest parts of the week to be without you. And it's not surprising since you spent most of our years managing restaurants. You almost always worked those times, so something in me doesn't expect you to be home then. Sometimes late in the evening I still catch myself thinking, "Now what time does John get off tonight?" And I feel a stab of sadness when I realize that you're not coming home anymore. I wonder how long I'll do that. You're a hard habit to break.
 
This is Maggie's latest close-up. She's growing so fast! She's getting more self-confidence and running all around the house. Sometimes Abby still makes grumbling noises when she comes close, but she sidles right up to her anyway, with no sign of fear. And she and Hunter cuddle and groom each other. Today Jethro let her teethe on his ear.
 
Your little family is having a happy, relaxed, slow evening. The only thing lacking is you, so drop by if you can. I have fresh Georgia peaches! 
 
Still leaving the light on for you,
Joan.

Friday, July 25, 2014

How Much Are Those Kitties in the Window?

Dear John,
 
I'm so ready for bed! I worked long today - in the drive-up, which is open until 6:00 on Fridays - so I worked for eleven hours. My feet hurt. Actually, every inch of me hurts. But Fridays are so busy that they go by fast. And on Fridays there are two of us back in my little corner, and that's fun. I enjoyed working with Tammy today.
 
I had to show you this photo. This is what Hunter and Abby do when I'm trying to go to sleep at night. Hunter climbs from the chest into the top part of the window and Abby crawls into the window sill. Last night there were birds outside that they were stalking. They don't make it any easier to sleep, but they're so much fun to watch.
 
I'm off to bed now. My sore throat is trying to turn into an asthma flare, so I'm taking care of myself - mucinex, chloraseptic, and inhalers. Better living through chemistry! And I talked to customers all day and have very little voice left. So if you drop by tonight, I'll listen to you. You can come and tell me what your days are like. You can tell me about simultaneous chess tournaments like you used to when I couldn't get to sleep. You can read the phone book if you want. I'd just love to hear your voice and touch you again.
 
I'll leave the light on,
Joan.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Hot Flashes & Internet Gambling

Dear John,
 
I had a good but odd day at work. I finished the annual testing - tested from 8:00 to 3:30. My brain is fried. I had no idea that a bank job would necessitate learning all about illegal internet gambling. Money laundering, maybe. But not internet gambling. And I had no idea that so much of the Patriot Act consists of banking regulations. As I told Abe this afternoon, I can read your EKG and teach you how to manage a patient with a balloon pump, but internet gambling? Yikes. After I finished testing I helped Abe finish some processing, relieved Margaret at the drive-up so she could work in the vault, and generally made myself useful.
 
On the way home I went by the pharmacy and talked to Tom about these hot flashes. They're miserable. I'm having up to three or four an hour at work, and they're keeping me awake at night. So he had a supplement he recommended. I'll keep you posted. I do have hopes. They aren't so bad in the winter, but they're nasty in July. I'm sorry I'm sleeping without you, but right now you should be glad you're missing this. Every time I move during the night, to go to the bathroom or even turn over, I have a hot flash. I throw off all the covers, lie in front of the fan, and it takes me half an hour to cool off enough to go back to sleep. You'd be miserable. You'd probably be freezing with the fan on all night. With as much heat as you used to put out at night, I'd be dying, too.
 
So when you come back to visit, you may not want to stay the night. At least, not until this supplement eases the hot flashes off a bit. You can come on a day that I'm off and I'll feed you meat loaf and mashed potatoes. At bedtime we can cuddle and do prayers together, you can tuck me in, they you can go back to Heaven and get a good night's sleep without me keeping you awake. And if you want, I'll teach you all about money laundering and illegal internet gambling. You'd be fascinated by all this stuff that I'm learning.
 
My next day off is Sunday - see you then?
Waiting and hoping,
Joan.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Purple Petunias & Barney Pete

Dear John,
 
All these animals are confusing me. I had to check my calendar to see which one I was taking to the vet today. It turns out it was Jethro, for his yearly. He's doing fine, is at his ideal weight, and has no problems. He does need to get a part-time job to help pay for all this health care. June was relieved to hear how well Maggie is doing.
 
Speaking of Jethro, we had another strange night. We went to bed at nine, all of us except Maggie who has decided to sleep on the top of the cat tower. A little after two I woke to find Jethro lying across my head. Sure enough, there were a few faint rumbles of thunder. I checked the radar and my heart sank. Clearly, we were in for hours of storms. So I yielded to the inevitable - sat up, turned on the light, got the laptop, and made toast.
 
It wasn't much of a storm. If it weren't for Jethro, I'd never have heard a thing. There was a faint rumble about every ten or fifteen minutes. But, Jethro being Jethro, we were up until after five. I'm glad this was my day off. It did drop the temperature, from the 90s yesterday to the low 70s today. So I opened the house this morning and everybody is happy.
 
Right now I'm sitting by the living room windows. The petunias in the window boxes are big and beautiful and fragrant. I got a variety of purples and lavenders this year; they look good against the light yellow siding. All the animals are asleep - Jethro at my feet, Maggie in my lap, and Hunter and Abby on the bed. I'll have to wake them up soon for dinner. Television is terrible tonight, so I'm listening to the wind in the trees.
 
Highs for the next ten days are supposed to be in the mid-70s, so the windows should be able to stay open. This isn't our usual July. But remember that polar vortex we got last winter? We have the same pattern in place now. This time it's welcome - it's giving us a very comfortable July. I hope we don't pay for it in September! And I'm not ready to think about next February.
 
That's all the news. Three-fifths of your little family has undergone medical scrutiny this month and been judged healthy. And so far I'm managing to keep all the creatures straight. One day I'll be like your grandmother was with the grandkids - when you can't remember the name of one of them, just call them Barney Pete!
 
Love you so much,
Joan.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Everything I Hope For, Everything I Need

Dear John,
 
I had another good day at work. I'm off tomorrow - I have shopping to do in the morning, and Jethro has his yearly vet appointment in the afternoon. So I'll have a nice busy day.
 
Like Joe Cocker said . . .
I've been smiling since yesterday afternoon. A young man told me that I'm gorgeous. After I regained the power of speech, I told him that I know an excellent optometrist who can take care of that problem for him. But it made me smile.
 
I was beautiful to you, and that was all that mattered. And you didn't love me because I was beautiful; you saw me as beautiful because you loved me. That's an important difference. The person you loved didn't go away in the thirty-four years we were married, but my youthful appearance did. I would never have married a man who loved me for my looks. Dreadful thought.
 
I never wanted to be beautiful. I've always wanted to look average. Deviating from the average in either direction is a dreadful nuisance. Looking pretty much like everybody else is the only way to avoid having your looks rule your life. Being either ugly or beautiful is an annoyance. I was always glad that I'm not beautiful.
 
I'm not to anybody but you, that is. I'm so glad you always loved to look at me. But I know that what you loved most about my face was the expression on it when I looked at you. And, like I said that night, that look is right here waiting for you. Like Joe Cocker said, you're everything I hope for, everything I need.
 
Love you with all my heart,
Joan.

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Way You Looked at Me

Dear John,
 
Today I've been thinking about the way you used to look at me.
 
I was at work where I have a wonderful view of one of the town parking lots. It's a Topeka parking lot - there are six spots for cars and six for buggies and there usually isn't much action. Today I saw a couple  drive up. The woman got out and went to the pharmacy while the man waited in the car. When she came back, they were aware of each other but never made eye contact. And that got me thinking about you.
 
Sometimes I'd wait in the car while you went in somewhere, and I'd always watch for you to come back. You'd come out the door and immediately look at me, and you'd have the most wonderful look on your face. You looked like you were overjoyed to see me there waiting for you. It amazed and delighted me that seeing me could bring that wonderful look to your face, that it was me that you loved so much. And you said it meant so much to you that I looked at you the way I did. It made me so happy that it was me you were walking toward looking like that. We've both been known to trip over curbs because we were too busy looking at each other to watch where we were walking. And that was when we were in our fifties.
 
Maybe the nurses at Methodist were onto something when they talked about how much we loved each other. I'd always assumed that all married people felt the same way we did. The evidence, however, suggests otherwise. Not everybody is like those couples on Investigation Discovery that kill each other. But not everybody loves each other like we do, either. Of course, I married The World's Only Perfect Man, and that helps. And with your health history, we never had the luxury of taking each other for granted. But it's more than that. We love each other very much. We had something special. And I'm thankful for the years I had with you.
 
That verb tense is wrong - I still have you, just not here with me. And maybe you still look at me the same way. I can't wait to see you. Will you look at me that way again? I can't wait to see your face.
 
Thinking about you with that look on my face,
Joan.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Necks, Nuzzles, & Our Last Ordinary Day

Dear John,
 
I'm still sick, but a little better tonight than this morning. I'm working tomorrow so I'll get to bed early.
 
Last night little Maggie discovered and climbed the cat tower, bless her! And she found the big-cat food dish and had a feast. She was fine going up - she got all the way to the top platform for a nap. Climbing down was a bit bumpy. That may have been because Jethro was trying to help. Then she had a long nap to sleep it off.
 
I woke up at 7:00 this morning, felt too bad to go anywhere, and went back to sleep. At 9:30, here came Hunter walking up me to nuzzle me in the face. He hadn't done that since he was a few months old. He lay down on my side, Jethro moved over and curled up against my back, and Abby joined them and spread out across my knees. I just lay there and drank in all that animal love. It was a treat.
 
They seem to know when I don't feel good. And they really do love me. They're such a comfort, now that you're not here. They're also great entertainment. I'm glad to have them, even if Jethro never does get that paper route. Thank you for any part you played in the coming of the cats. And thank you for Jethro - we chose him together on that one ordinary day we had in all of 2011. Or maybe he chose us. It's always hard to tell. That was our very last ordinary day.
 
Love from your mammal mound,
Joan.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

It's Good that Abby Doesn't Have Thumbs

Dear John,
 
I've had a slow, lazy day. I woke up with a stuffed-up head and sore throat, and I've felt pretty awful all day. So I've been sensible and taken it easy. I did some basic housework and two loads of laundry, and not much else except cuddle with the animals.
 
Maggie is doing better. Her stools are looking normal and she's using the litter box predictably. She likes to sleep in my grandmother Keistler's rocking chair. Be sure you tell Mama that! And tell her that I have a big towel in it to protect the upholstery in case of accident. It's low enough that even little Maggie can get in and out easily.
 
Hunter is getting more and more curious about Maggie. I've seem him coming up to her and licking and nuzzling her. Last night he slept on me for the first time since Jethro brought Maggie home - I was very happy about that. I'd missed having his big purring warmth draped over my ribcage. He slept on me for four hours, until I had to go to the bathroom.
 
Abby is interesting to watch. She still hisses and growls at Maggie. I had to break it up twice last night when she woke me up growling. But she's being more cuddly and affectionate with me than she has since she was a kitten. She still draws the line at being picked up. But she's all over me and wanting her belly rubbed. I know it's insecurity because there's a new female in the house, but I'm enjoying it while it lasts. And she's making a great show of solidarity with Hunter.
 
I'm sorry you're missing all of this fascinating interplay. If you can get a hall pass, come and watch tonight at bedtime. Maybe you can stay all night? Maybe Hunter will sleep on you for a while.
 
I'd be happy to share the cat love with you!
Joan.
 


Friday, July 18, 2014

Musings on Supreme Pizza

Dear John,
 
Work was crazy busy, even for a Friday. Then I came home and mowed. Now I'm sitting on the couch watching dusk fall, feeling the breeze, smelling the petunias in the window boxes, listening to the birds and Stevie Nicks, with the animals around me. This is good.
Remember these?
We had Pizza Hut brought in for lunch at work to celebrate our survival of the week of the storm and power outage. So, of course, I've been thinking about all those years you managed Pizza Huts. I lived with that smell for so many years - on you, your uniforms, in the car, everywhere. And all the generations of Pizza Hut uniforms I've washed! You wore everything from the old red double knits to the brief period that managers had to wear white shirts and ties. I've seen so many new products come and go, seen the advent of the buffet, pan pizza, and delivery. You were made general manager of your first one in 1980 - that was thirty-four years ago. Yes, we saw some changes.
 
I was so proud of you. You were a good restaurant manager. You loved the customer contact, the financial part of it, the social work aspect of working with employees - everything except corporate politics. It wasn't anything I could ever do, but you were perfect for it. And your last job at Panera was perfect for you. You and the company were a perfect fit. I'm sorry you didn't get more years with them. But then, I'm just sorry you didn't get more years. I'm glad that your last job was one that you loved so. It was wonderful to see you look forward to going to work every day.
 
I don't get to Panera often - I don't go to that part of Goshen very often. But they will always have a special place in my heart for the way they treated you, and me after your death. And Pizza Hut, of course, will always mean you to me. I enjoyed my two pieces of supreme today. All that was missing was you.
 
Eating pizza for you,
Joan.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

A Late Identity Crisis

Dear John,
 
I've been thinking again. I've realized that I'm having an identity crisis outside of its proper time. I never had one when I was a teenager - I was a geek and I knew it. I went to college, got a science degree, and met and married another geek. There was no difficulty there.
 
A big part of my identity for twenty years was saying, "I am a cardiac critical care nurse." That isn't a job you do, it's something you are. I'm not working as a nurse now, but I still am one. I still have the training, the license, the ways of thinking and looking at things. I still have the head and personality of a critical care nurse. (Actually, I remember your nurses talking about that when you were at Methodist.)
 
 When fibromyalgia made me stop working, I went through a bit of identity crisis. I felt rather like men seem to when they retire. But being your wife had always been an important part of who I was, so it became my primary identity. Then you died and I misplaced myself.
 
So now I'm wondering who in the world I am. Your widow? I am that, but it's just a legal label and a Facebook status. I'm employed as a bank teller, but that isn't who I am. That sits very badly as an identity. I'm your wife (but widowed), a critical care nurse (but retired), a Southerner (that's lived up north for twenty-five years), a dog person (with three cats) - you see my difficulty.
 
And it goes way beyond this issue of names and labels. I'm really a bit uncertain who I am now that I don't have you to reflect me back to myself. Without you, I'm living in an interpersonal vacuum that makes it hard to see myself. I know the Cymbalta withdrawal isn't helping any of this. And I also know that thinking about who you are isn't the way to learn it. You come to know yourself as you just live.
 
I suppose that means that I have to just keep on living, doesn't it? It's really not surprising that I have to work through this. I'm afraid I'm being normal again. I must still be acting like myself because nobody is asking me why I've gotten weirder than usual lately. It's just that I look for myself and don't find anything that I can grasp.
 
Thanks for listening - as always, any feedback would be welcome. Meanwhile, I'll keep muddling on. Maybe one day I'll look back and see myself.
 
Adore you,
Joan.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

It's a Girl

Dear John,
 
Meet Maggie. The kitten is a girl - Jen was right. So I decided to name her after Mama.
 
She had her first vet appointment today. They all think Jethro needs to get a paper route to help pay for the kittens he adopts. Maggie weighs 1.1 pound. June says she's the size of a 4-week-old but has the coordination and teeth of a 6-week-old, so she's probably just small because she didn't have enough to eat. She's putting meat on her bones now and has a good appetite. I'm mixing dry food with the soft and she's loving it, and she's drinking well. Another indication that she's older than a month is that she drinks with her nose above water.
 
She checked out fine except for conjunctivitis and a couple of intestinal parasites - not surprising since she's feral. So she's on medicine twice a day for a while. She was negative for feline leukemia, which was a relief since that would be the other explanation for her small size. So we're doing basic stool precautions here - nothing I didn't do for years in hospitals. Of course, there I didn't have patients that liked to eat out of litter boxes like Jethro does. While I'm gone I'm leaving Maggie in the bathroom with dry food, water, her litter box, a bed, and her favorite toy. She's getting more rest and less stress, and the other animals are kept away from her parasites. It's working well for everybody. They'll all get checked when they go in for their regular appointments, and in the meantime I'm on stool patrol. I think Jethro does need that paper route.
 
So go find Mama and tell her about her namesake! I named the little one for her because she loved cats so much, and couldn't have one after I was born because I used to be so allergic to them. Update her on Jethro's three kitties and show her pictures of little Maggie. And give her a big hug for me. Tell her and Daddy that I love and miss them both.
 
Miss you most,
Joan.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Love & Tabletop Key

Dear John,
 
I think the animals love me. When I got home Jethro was barking and trying to come through the door as usual, his new kitty was right behind him running toward me and squeaking, and Hunter and Abby were right behind her. I don't know what they were up to when the garage door went up. But they greeted me with great enthusiasm.
 
Tomorrow I'll be in LaGrange in the morning for training, and in the afternoon I'll take the new kitten to the vet. Tomorrow night I will know gender for certain, so I'll have a name - this is getting linguistically complex. She (provisionally) has been asleep in my lap since I came home and fed her. She's eating me out of house and home, and she's still skin and bones. The eye infection is better, probably due to improved nutrition. She still needs antibiotic ointment for her eyes, and she'll need tummy medicine and to be checked for parasites - her stools are runny and she can't completely control them. And none of this is in the least surprising.
 
Jen and Elyssa came by today - Elyssa is just home from six weeks in Florida. She's eight years old now - can you believe it? Her birthday party will be Sunday afternoon. She's so big! I picked her up this morning and realized that I probably shouldn't do that anymore - she's too big and my back is too old! Thank you for being sure I was there for her birth. You did all the financing and trip-planning, and drove all the way to Detroit to meet my flight home. Cell reception was so bad that I could only call you from one rock on Tabletop Key. When we made that last trip to the Keys before you died, it made me happy to take you to that rock and show it to you. I feel very sentimental about that rock.
 
Do you get reception from that rock now? I can't call you from here, I know. But if I went back to Tabletop Key and called you from there, could I talk to you? It would be worth the trip.
 
Missing your voice,
Joan.
 


Monday, July 14, 2014

To Us, You Smell Like Love

Dear John,
 
I was greeted with great enthusiasm after work due to a line of storms that went through this afternoon. They're all past us now so we should get a good night's sleep. The animals did fine on their own all day. Jethro's new one was hungry when I got home. And she'd peed and pooped in the litter box, bless her little heart. The adjustment process is going well.
 
Jethro is so unusual. At work we were telling each other about our weekends, and when I said the Jethro had collected another kitten everybody assumed that he'd killed it, not adopted it.  I can't imagine Jethro killing anything. He loves cats and they love him. The little one slept the first part of last night cuddled up with him. Then she came and curled up under my chin for the rest of the night.
 
We do choose unusual dogs, don't we? Naomi, bless her, got by on her beauty and not her brains. She happily moved all over with us, and lived over sixteen years. Caleb was the sweetest dog I've ever seen, and so calm and gentle. He went cheerfully through all that chemotherapy - he'd lie down and stretch his leg out for June to put the IV in, and he was always so excited to go to the vet. And here's Jethro, the Great Collector and Protector of Kittens.
 
I loved watching you with our dogs. You loved them so much, and they loved you. Jethro still grieves for you. I can tell by the way he sniffs your shoes that your scent isn't as strong as it used to be, even for his nose. He used to sniff, wag his tail, and smile at me. Now he sniffs, then turns to look at me with big sad eyes. But he still sniffs, and knows who he's smelling. And he still doesn't like it when I wear your lounging pajamas. Your little family is carrying on but we miss you. We'd be happy to make room for you in the bed!
 
Saving your spot in my heart,
Joan.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Good Upheaval

Dear John,
 
I'm tired. Maybe it just took me this long to relax. That's probably the case.
 
I slept in this morning, since Father is out of town and we didn't have the Liturgy today, and the animals didn't seem to mind. Ron and Tammy came over and brought lunch this afternoon, and we had a nice visit. Now I'm on the couch with Jethro on my feet, Hunter at my shoulder, the new kitten on the floor exploring the living room, and Abby following her around hissing at her. There's never a dull moment, is there? At least Abby has made up with me.
 
We'll be going to bed early tonight. I'll have to get up about half an hour earlier than I have been so that I have time to clean the little one's eyes, feed her, and get her to the litter box. They'll be on their own for nine hours tomorrow and I'm sure they'll do fine.
 
In spite of the excitement created by Jethro the Collector and Protector of Kittens, I've enjoyed my two full days off. It's been a welcome break. I'll have next weekend off, too. My schedule is flipping because I have training to go to in LaGrange on Wednesday morning. We all have to go sometime this week, and this keeps me from going into overtime. Over my lunch break tomorrow I'll call the vet and set up an appointment to get the new kitten in on Wednesday afternoon. June knows Jethro - she won't be a bit surprised. I'll have to save up to pay for neutering. I should send the bill to Jethro.
 
It's a bit of upheaval, but it's good upheaval. You can be proud of your dog. He's a gentle, loving sweetheart. I have a crazy cat dog.
 
Love from your crazy family,
Joan.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Jethro Strikes Again

Dear John,
 
Remember when I said that I could do whatever I wanted this weekend? God has a sense of humor.
 
Last night at bedtime I let Jethro out for the last time. He did his bark-whine that lets me know that something is wrong and he needs Mom. So I went out at dusk in my pajamas and discovered that he'd found another starving, abandoned kitten. After sighing deeply, I went to the other side of the fence, picked up the kitten, brought it inside, and fed it. It seems that Jethro now has three cats.
 
I think this one is another girl. She's the same brownish-black that Abby was when she was little, with tan spots scattered over her. And she has the eye infection that the whole feral colony has. She's skin and bones, poor little thing, and unlike Abby, she knows how to eat and drink. And she does both with great enthusiasm. Today we got the litter box all figured out. Last night required washing of the sheets and blankets.
 
We had the animal relationships all figured out, and now they're in flux. She and Jethro have bonded. Hunter is curious and cautious about her, and fine with me. Abby, being the reigning female, is outraged. She spent last night under the bed, alternately hissing and growling. She's starting to speak to me, but won't get near the new little one. They'll work it out eventually.
 
I have Wednesday afternoon off, and that's the soonest I can get her in to see June. I'm washing her eyes with warm wet cotton balls every couple of hours, like I did with Abby, until I can get antibiotic ointment. After having taken care of Abby at four weeks old, I feel comfortable that I know what to do with one this little. I'm taking name suggestions but waiting for gender confirmation on Wednesday.
 
I did get to the farmers' market and the co-op, but of course you know that since I brought lunch out to eat with you. There was so much storm damage at the cemetery! There were lots of branches and several big trees down. There's nothing major near our plots. When they replace those trees, I hope they replace the one that used to be near us. I'd love to have some shade when I come to see you. Today was cloudy, cool, and windy - a nice day. I prayed for you and your mother.
 
Please pray for us now - for the new little one, and for the upheaval of the pecking order. Let me know if you have any ideas for a name. And welcome the newest member of your little family!
 
Love from all of us,
Joan.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Let the Weekend Begin!

Dear John,
 
It's Friday! I'm off work until Monday morning! I feel like a kid on Christmas.
 
This is the first weekend I've had completely off - not working a half-day on Saturday - that I haven't gone to Springfield, and I'm so excited. Father is out of town this weekend so we won't have Great Vespers or Liturgy. I have absolutely no commitments or responsibilities until Monday morning.
 
I'm not going to set the alarm. The animals won't let me sleep much past dawn, but it's nicer to wake up to them than the alarm.
 
And that reminds me: I have to tell you this. You'll love it. I have my phone alarm set to the cricket sounds, and Abby is completely fascinated by it. Every morning the alarm goes off and she comes running. She jumps on the phone, head-bumps it, rubs her face on it, paws it, and is generally fascinated by that thing that sounds like crickets. Hunter has never been interested, but Abby loves it.
 
Now, back to the weekend. Tomorrow I'll get to go to the farmers' market. I haven't been in a couple of months, with working on Saturday mornings. I'm almost out of jelly, and I've been eating store-bought cheese and eggs, Heaven help us. I can't wait to see what seasonal things are in. Then I can go to the co-op, also for the first time in two months, and get real syrup (as in, from a maple tree, instead of high-fructose corn syrup) and organic yogurt.
 
Sometime over the weekend I need to trim the yard and water the flowers in the window boxes. And it's time to balance the checkbook. But those are small things. I may even play with rearranging the furniture in the workroom. The point is that I can do whatever I want whenever I want. I have two whole complete days free.
 
I'm entirely too excited about this. But I am looking forward to it. If you can come for a visit, this would be a wonderful time for it.
 
Watching for you,
Joan.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Furry Cuddles & Kisses

Dear John,
 
I had a good day at work. Tomorrow is Friday, so we will be busy. Then I'M OFF FOR THE WHOLE WEEKEND! Think I'm looking forward to it?
 
I was pondering tonight how much harder these last few months would have been without the animals. Their unconditional - and exuberant - love has meant so much to me while I wrestled with Cymbalta withdrawal. Jethro, of course, is a 55-pound cuddly lap dog. Hunter lies next to my shoulder on the back of the couch and comes and curls up on me at night when I'm asleep. And Abby sleeps at my feet and likes to lie next to me on the couch in the evenings.
 
Jethro has been wonderful since before you died. All that time you were in hospitals, he was here with me. He slept on your side of the bed at night and met me at the door when I came home. There were many times I hated having to leave you and come home - constrained by the limit of the puppy-bladder - but it was probably better for both of us that I had to leave sometime. Before the girls moved in and after they moved out, he kept me from living completely alone. He gave me somebody to interact with and take care of. And then he started collecting kittens, which has enriched my life and provided endless entertainment.
 
They aren't a replacement for you but they make me feel the loss a little less. This is the first time I've been on my own, since I graduated from college one Saturday and married you the next. They're good company, and with them around I don't feel alone. I get lots of warm cuddles and kisses, and plenty of love.
 
So when you pray for me, remember them, too. The day will most likely come when I will have to give Jethro to you. The cats, having longer lifespans, may well outlive me. I'd like it if all of us could just come to you together. That would be easier for everybody. But, for now, we're looking after each other here, and we're doing okay.
 
Love from all you little family,
Joan. 


Wednesday, July 9, 2014

I am Woman - Watch me Sleep!

Dear John,
 
There isn't much happening tonight. I'm on the couch with wet hair, the dog at my feet, Abby at my shoulder, and Hunter off enjoying solitude somewhere.
 
I worked my half-day today and did another round of annual testing. I had no idea how much of the Patriot Act was devoted to banking regulations. My brain is completely fried. After work I went to the pharmacy and the grocery store, came home and had lunch, took a nap, and mowed. It was time and it's supposed to rain all weekend. I still need to trim, but the big job is done.
 
I'm glad that I always thanked you for taking care of the yard, and I thank you again. The flower beds were mine to look after, but you did the mowing, trimming, and weed-and-feeding. And I appreciate all your hard work. I'm a bit amazed at what all I'm doing now. I'm working full-time, doing all the shopping, handling the business and finances, and doing all the housework and yard work by myself. It's no wonder I get tired. But I'm managing, and I wouldn't have believed that I could do it with the fibromyalgia. It helps to be off the Cymbalta. I have more pain, but also more energy. That's a trade-off that I'm happy to make. The depression and anxiety are easing. One day I'll be over that part of it, too. Then I'll turn back into myself. Is the world ready?
 
For now, I'm tired and it's bedtime. Hunter has appeared and situated himself in my lap, which makes typing a bit challenging. I have the whole weekend off - it will be the first one I've had that I haven't gone out of town, and I'm ready for it. I haven't made it to the farmers' market in weeks. I'm running out of jelly and have been eating store-bought cheese and eggs. I miss my farmers' market! But now we're all off to bed. There should be no storms tonight, and I hope we're past the firecracker season. There were a few last night, so you never know.
 
Love you with all my heart,
Joan.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Adventures in Sleeping

Dear John,
 
I had a good day at work and got to come home to my little furfamily. It's wonderful to be met at the door by creatures that love you.
 
That's one thing we always did, didn't we? We always went to the door with each other when one of us left the house, and always met each other at the door when one of us came home. And we hugged and kissed every time. Of course, I grew up in the deep South where you hug and kiss everybody before and after walking to the mailbox at the end of the driveway. But you loved it, too. It was part of making our house a home. And it was part of loving each other. You don't say good-by or hello at the door anymore, but rest assured that the animals have taken over that job for you. I am greeted with great enthusiasm.
 
I found this poster a few days ago and had to show it to you. This is what our bed is like these days. Jethro sleeps next to me unless there's a storm or fireworks, in which case he sleeps on me. Hunter sleeps draped across my ribs. Abby sleeps at or on my feet. As I've told you before, I've learned to look around and see where everybody is before I move in the middle of the night. And I always sleep with the fan on, even when I'm using the air conditioning - they put out a lot of heat.
 
Right now, Jethro is looking out the back door at the birds in the yard, Hunter is eating, and Abby is perched on the end of the half-wall at the stairs. I'm still sorry you're missing the cats. You'd love them. Or maybe you do love them. That's more likely. Tell Mama thank you for teaching me so much about them, even when I was allergic to them and couldn't have one. I know she's so happy that I have two cats. Hug her for me.
 
Love from your furfamily,
Joan.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Air Supply & Biochemistry

Dear John,
 
I think I turned a corner last night. I'm feeling a little better, maybe about one quarter human. And it feels very good.
 
Father called yesterday evening and I had a good, long conversation with him. And I shared about the depression on Facebook last night and got lots of support. The hard thing to clarify is that this isn't about your death. It factors in, as it does to everything in my life, but the cause of the depression is Cymbalta withdrawal. As I touch base on the internet with other people who have gone through this, they all had the same problem. And they didn't even know you. Of course, emotions get all tangled up together - your death and my new job are factors. But I have to treat and deal with the underlying withdrawal problem first.
 
So today I've felt better. I went to bed last night looking forward to going to work. And I got hungry today. I have mixed feelings about that since I've lost ten pounds in the last two weeks, but I know it's a good sign. I found myself smiling today. I'm still somewhat irritable and anxious, but much less than I was a couple of days ago. I'm going in the right direction.
 
I had a memory bubble up this afternoon. I know you remember this one. We were walking down the midway one afternoon at the Clark County Fair. We'd seen the kids' 4H entries and were going to ride the rides. And walking toward us was a very large-chested woman wearing a tee shirt that said "Air Supply." We had to duck behind the merry-go-round because we couldn't keep from laughing. I still chuckle about that every time I hear one of their songs. And from that I learned to be very careful about what printed words I wear.
 
It was good to laugh today. I'll have to make a habit of it. Love to laugh with you,
Joan.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Hoping for Hope

Dear John,
 
There's nothing new here. The windows are still open, I have a lap-full of scared dog when the occasional fireworks go off, I'm still depressed and anxious. There's been an all-day NCIS marathon today. We're supposed to have storms tonight, and it looks and feels like it.
 
The worst thing about depression seems to be the hopelessness. It wouldn't be nearly as bad to feel like this if I could hold on to the hope that one day I'd feel better. My head tells me that I will - the drugs all take a couple of weeks to reach a therapeutic blood level. But that's a little, tiny voice squeaking in the vast darkness inside me. And I know that there's a chance that this drug won't work; I may have to try another, and another, and another before I find one that does.
 
I've continued to read through all my letters to you. I'm finding some hope in them because it's plain that I was feeling better then than I am now. It's so easy to think that all that is wrong with me is grief, but those early letters show me that it's much more than that. Sadness and depression are two very different things.
 
And the more I read those letters, the clearer it is to me that this depression coincides with my insurance-forced Cymbalta withdrawal. It isn't my circumstances, isn't exogenous. If insurance had cut off my Cymbalta while you were alive I'd still have had to go through severe depression. It's harder without you - everything is. But I'm not depressed because of your death, so please don't think that. My body is adjusting to the withdrawal of an extremely addictive prescription drug. I told you at the beginning that fewer than half the people who try to come off of Cymbalta actually come off permanently. Those that do, go through a lot of suffering in the process. The maddening thing is that all of this was known and covered up before the drug was approved. A pox upon them.
 
So please keep praying for me - that this drug helps, that I can be stubborn enough. And anything else you can think of. All prayers are welcome! And, if you can manage it, a visit would be lovely. Or maybe just come and get me?
 
Ready to join you,
Joan.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Filling Cold Empty Spaces with Dog Fur

Dear John,
 
We all survived last night's fireworks. I got us to bed a little after 8:00, hoping to get a couple of hours of sleep before the town fireworks started. But one of the neighbors had family over and was shooting off big firecrackers in their back yard, which was worse for Jethro than the town ones.
 
Poor baby, he's been so protective of me since you died. He's terrified, but he insists on lying on me to keep me safe. He either covers my head, which makes is impossible for me to breathe, or he stretches out completely on top of me, which is quite warm for July. So I sat up with the laptop until things quieted down, which was around 1:30 this morning. The act of sitting up appears to release him from responsibility for my safety - he lies down with his head in my lap and does fine. I expect more of the same tonight. But I don't have to get up at 6:00 tomorrow morning, so it doesn't matter as much. We're all eager to get more than four hours of sleep. Jethro has been sleepy all day and I crashed when I got off work at noon.
 
None of this would be nearly as adventurous if you were here, you know. For one thing, Jethro would still be depending on you to take care of me. When he wasn't the man of the house, he'd lie down between us when there were storms or fireworks, and he'd feel safe there. He's the first dog I've ever had that felt responsible for protecting me. But I've never had a German shepherd before, have I? He's a sweet, sweet dog.
 
This photo has been circulating for about a year. A soldier and his military dog were spotted in an airport waiting for a connecting flight. The soldier took a nap while his dog protected him. This is exactly what Jethro does with me. They really are amazing dogs.
 
So know that I'm being well looked-after. Jethro takes care of me and his kitties. He's keeping us all safe for you. He also keeps me from coming home to an empty house. And he gives me unconditional love, and somebody to hug and cuddle with. As I've said before, when I wake up in the middle of the night and have that moment that I forget and reach out to touch you, it's so much better to touch warm dog fur than cold empty space. He helps fill up some of the cold, empty spaces in my life. The rest of them will just have to wait until I can join you.
 
Empty for you,
Joan.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Your Beleaguered Wife & Dog

Dear John,
 
Happy July Fourth. We've had a quiet - metaphorically, anyway - day here. I slept in, took a nap, and haven't gone out of the house. Like last Sunday, I knew I couldn't handle crowds. And I didn't feel like going to the festivities alone. Jethro has spent most of the day in my lap because of all the noise.
 
Last night I had trouble sleeping, so I was reading what I wrote to you in early 2013 and the severity of my current depression jumped out at me. I was hurting and grieving in 2013, but there was an underlying hope and contentment that are completely absent now. I got out the Beck Depression Inventory and ranked solidly in the most severe level of depression.
 
I should have seen it. I was telling you recently that I can burst into tears at any moment - that alone should have been enough. You know I had some depression after going off of Cymbalta. I think now that it never went away; instead, it got more severe. And severe depression can be harder to recognize. The other thing that should have been a red flag is that I'm not enjoying knitting now - for me, that's serious.
 
I'm thankful that I had anxiety with it because that's what drove me to see the doctor. I'm on medicine now and waiting the week or two it takes for SSRIs to work. While I wait, I'm doing only what I have to do. I'm not pushing myself at all. If I get to work, pay the bills, do laundry, and keep the house from being condemned, I'll be doing well. And one day the clouds will lift and I'll feel like myself again.
 
I'm going to get all of us to bed early tonight because I'm working tomorrow, but we won't be staying there all night. I'm sure we'll be up when the fireworks start, since they're just a block away. I had Jethro's Thunder Shirt on him last night and he did much better with the late-night fireworks. He lay down between my head and the headboard and slept through most of them. So I do have hope of getting some sleep tonight. Please pray for your beleaguered wife and dog.
 
Love you so much,
Joan.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Cover Me

Dear John,
 
It's been a lovely day - sixties, sunny, low humidity. I celebrated by mowing this afternoon. I opened the house yesterday and a good time is being had by all. I'm loving the sounds and smells, Jethro is barking at all the noises, and the cats are lying in the windowsills and stalking the petunias in the window boxes.
 
I saw Joe today for my yearly check-up. He thinks the anxiety has a depression component, which is probably right, so he put me on Celexa to address both. I have a thirty-day prescription and I'm to call him and report in a couple of weeks. He said counseling may also help, but as usual my insurance doesn't cover that so it isn't an option. Like most insurance, that's only covered on an in-patient basis, thus closing the barn door after the horse is already gone. It would help to talk to Father Matthew, but he's too busy to take on anything else. I can't ask that of him.
 
You always did that for me. I could talk to you about anything, and I did, often and at great length. You always made everything better. But what I'd have to talk to you about now is what it's like living without you, and there's something of a contradiction there.
 
I had lunch at Five Guys, a hot dog and lemonade. I got the car washed, and went to PetSmart and bought a Thunder Shirt for Jethro. It's July 3rd - they had them on a big stand right inside the door. I gave him his first time in it this afternoon, and he loved it. I'm sure it will get used tonight, and probably for the next several nights. I do hope it makes him feel better. It's hard to see him so scared and not be able to do anything about it.
 
While I was at Five Guys they played Springsteen's Cover Me, and I realized that's how I'm feeling. I want somewhere to hide from the world. I just don't have a person hide me like I used to. I'm facing the rain, the driving snow, and the wild wind blowing, all by myself. I wish I could come to you and let you hide me.
 
Needing a place to hide,
Joan.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Please Show up on My Phone!

Dear John,
 
I had a busy day at work today, more like a Saturday than a Wednesday, but that's all about the holiday. I'll be off for two days, work a half-day on Saturday, and be off Sunday. I'm ready to catch my breath a bit.
 
Today I was thinking about one of your more baffling and lovable idiosyncrasies. It was the messages you'd leave on my phone whenever you called and I didn't answer. Normal people would just leave a message. You'd eventually get around to that, but first you'd leave this long soliloquy about my reason for missing the phone call. It was always fascinating to hear your speculations. You'd go on about maybe I was outside and hadn't taken the phone with me, or was in the basement, or taking a shower, or had gone somewhere and forgotten my phone - you came up fascinating scenarios. And you were so completely serious about it. I used to listen and laugh. The amazing thing is that you were rarely right - that was unusual for you. You knew me so well that it seemed you'd just know what I was doing at any given moment.
 
I'd so love to get one of those messages now. If Verizon sufficiently expands its coverage, I might. Maybe now you always know what I'm doing. I just wish it was mutual. I so miss hearing all about your day at bedtime every night, and I miss telling you about mine. Even if you already know all about my day, I'd love to hear your comments. I'd just love to hear you. If you can, come tonight and tell me about your day.
 
Miss you,
Joan.