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.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Where There's Nothing to Scare the Dogs

Dear John,
 
The storms did get here last night. Jethro jumped on my head and woke me up at 1:20 this morning. It all went through in a little over an hour. After the thunder and lightening were past, I persuaded the dog to lie down between my head and the headboard and go back to sleep. I can't stretch my legs out when we're in that configuration, but at least he's off of my face and I can breathe.
 
There was no damage here at home and minor damage in town, but LaGrange was hit hard. About an hour ago it was confirmed that a tornado did touch down west of town on US 20 and followed the road into the center of town. The main bank office was closed today, which caused all kinds of wrinkles for us at work, and they may not be back up until Saturday. There was a lot of scattered damage throughout the area, lots of trees down, a few barns destroyed, a wall taken off of a school, and one person killed when a tree fell on a mobile home. And there are a lot of people without power.

Our electricity went off twice and came back on, thanks to the fact that Topeka has lines to both substations. The cats were fine until the power went off. And it wasn't the power going off that scared them - after all, it was after 1 AM and there were no lights on. You know that light we have plugged into the hall  outlet that comes on when the power goes out? That's what frightened them; it was that light coming on all of a sudden. Until then they were in the windowsills watching the storm like their mother. As soon as that light came on, they were up in the bed with Jethro and me. So we all huddled together until the storm passed.

Anyway, your little family weathered the storm just fine. There were no warnings issued so we all stayed in bed. I'm heading to bed soon and hoping for a better night's sleep. We're all ready for a peaceful night.

I know your night will be peaceful. But it probably isn't night, is it? You live in never-ending day, with no thunder storms or snow storms or tornadoes. There's nothing to scare the dogs, which is good since all dogs go to Heaven.

Tell Caleb and Naomi that I'm coming,
Joan.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Keeping My Eyes on the Prize - and the Radar

Dear John,
 
I had a good day at work, got milk, eggs, and cheese on the way home, watered the flowers in the window boxes, paid bills, and am waiting for the severe storms we're supposed to get tonight. I haven't told Jethro yet. He'll find out soon enough, poor baby.
 
Television was bad so I turned on Pandora when I got home, had a good cry over Same Auld Lang Syne and Fire and Rain, and felt much better afterward. I think I'm grieving for you and your mother at the same time, and it's all mixed up together. Bless the dog, when I cry he comes and sits next to me and licks my face. And since I tend to cry with my mouth open, I get French kissed by the dog, so after a while I end up laughing. He's right beside me at the first sniffle. He loves me and looks after me.
 
I found this tonight. It's exactly what I want to do, but I can't follow you yet. How does one stalk somebody that's in Heaven? Believe me, if I could figure that out I'd be on your trail in a minute. I'm waiting to follow you and watching the sky for stagecoaches. You didn't even leave a trail of breadcrumbs for me to follow. We always wanted to take this trip together, but it wasn't our choice to make. I still miss you with every heartbeat. I don't like being on my own - I'm tired of being strong, tired of having to be strong. I wish I had you with me.
 
But I do have you to look forward to. I do better when I can keep that in mind. This life seems so long, but it really isn't, especially compared to eternity. As has been said, I need to keep my eyes on the prize and hold on.
 
Holding, waiting, and loving you,
Joan.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Stoned on a Short Rope

Dear John,
 
I'm not sure what to say about today except that I probably needed it. The anxiety was way too bad to let me go to church this morning. There was no way I could have handled being in a crowd. I was having a lot of fibromyalgia pain so I took a pain pill, which took care of the pain but also gave me a break from the anxiety. I've been stoned all day but much less anxious. I can't go out in public like this so it's not a solution. But it was good for me because it reminded me how good it feels to feel more normal, and that gives me hope. I also got some sleep and I needed it - for the last six weeks I haven't slept more than two hours at a time, and rarely that. I should be in better mental and physical shape tomorrow.
 
Things are very hard right now; I'm glad to know that you're praying for me. I feel like all I've done lately is whine at you and I feel bad about that. But you never felt that way - you always wanted to know the truth about how I felt and what I thought, and I know that hasn't changed. I almost didn't write tonight because I didn't want to just say the same things over again. But I didn't want to worry you, and I always feel better after talking to you. So here it is - the same things over again. Enjoy!
 
I'm working the next three days, then I see Joe. I'm trusting that he can help me. My rope is getting very short.
 
Love you,
Joan.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

When We Started Way Back When

Dear John,
 
Jim and Irene brought your mother's Hoosier cupboard over today. Everybody beat me here - I got home from work right after they and Jen and Bob got it moved in, bless them all. It fits perfectly in the dining room, between the kitchen cabinets and the back door. The wood is almost a perfect match for the cabinets and the hardware is black like the rest of the kitchen. It looks like it was made for that spot. I moved the hutch to the dining room wall where the china closet was, and got everything put away in their new homes. It gives me a lot more storage space.
 
Then  Jim, bless him, dismembered the old corner computer cabinet in the workroom - you know, the black one from IKEA that I put together in the room. It wasn't really useful now that I have a laptop and it was eating up space. So it's dismantled in the garage now, and the black china closet is where it was. It will be great to have - I can store yarn in it, close the glass doors, and be able to see the yarn without the cats being able to get to it. I still need to move the furniture around in the office and get it the way I want it. But the dining room is together, and you'd like it very much.
 
Jim and Irene decided to drive back home this evening instead of staying the night, so they have all day tomorrow to rest up. We went out for Mexican before they left. Irene called a little bit ago and said they were home. We decided that getting together for dinner was lots of fun. Thank you again for having such a nice family. I love them, and love spending time with them.
 
I suppose I'm making progress - I've rearranged furniture without feeling guilty about it. I know that you'd like what I did. Maybe I've learned that things can change without changing our relationship. No matter how much furniture comes or goes here, I'm just as much your wife and love you just as much. I've learned to accept changes without being afraid or feeling like I'm being unfaithful to you.
 
And my memories won't change. Jim Croce's I Got a Name just came on. I remember studying in your dorm room and listening to that song on your stereo. (You know, the one with the eight-track tape player and quadraphonic speakers that was so state-of-the-art. Everybody loved your stereo.)
 
Every time I hear that song, I'm back in your dorm room. You're at your desk studying and I have my nursing books spread out all over your bed. You'd turn the desk chair sideways and stretch your legs out on the bed; I'd sit with my back against the wall and my legs across the bed, and we'd study for hours like that every weekend. That's what dating was like for us math-science majors. And we enjoyed every minute of it. And I'd give everything in this world for one more college Saturday with you. I'd even give up my new Hoosier cupboard.
 
Come visit me tonight?
 
Longing for you,
Joan.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Sentiment & Toilet Paper

Dear John,
 
Today was frantically busy but not as bad as I'd expected. The tech people arrived early and got the other drive-up computer fixed, so there were two of us most of the day. After I got home I took everything out of the china closet and hutch, and moved the dining room furniture around to be ready for tomorrow and the arrival of the Hoosier cupboard.
 
At lunch today I changed the toilet paper in the ladies' room  and thought about you. I remember how you used to get the paper started for me whenever you changed the roll. You said you wanted it to be ready for me to use it. That has always meant so much to me - not because I didn't want to start the roll myself, but because you thought about me in such a little thing. You were thoughtful even when it came to toilet paper. I don't know if you knew how much that touched me. If you didn't know then, I'm glad you do now. Thank you for thinking about me in such little, everyday things. Thank you for loving me that way. Thank you for caring about how the toilet paper was when I went to the bathroom.
 
While we're at it, thank you for absolutely everything,
Joan.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Throw Me a Rope

Dear John,
 
It was a hard afternoon at work and tomorrow will be much worse. On Fridays we always have both lanes of the drive-up open, but tomorrow I'll be on my own. The computer for the second window is down and we're short two people, anyway.
 
I can only do what I can do. I know that. I'll need to stay focused and not hurry myself into making mistakes. It would be a hard day even without the anxiety I'm dealing with right now. I need your prayers, and those of anybody you can round up. And it will be my eleven-hour day, too.
 
I'm trying to stay in the present and not worry about tomorrow. Again, that would be difficult even without the anxiety. I had no idea how brutal anxiety is. It feels like my sympathetic nervous system is stuck on high. I'm shaking, I'm throwing up and having diarrhea, I can't sleep or even relax. The good news is that I can't eat either, and I'm losing weight. I have another week before I see Joe. After that, most drugs take a few weeks before they start to work. My goal is to keep functioning, stay out of the emergency room, and not get fired.
 
I've never felt quite this overwhelmed by anything, even grief. I really do believe that this is the hardest thing I've ever gone through. I can't separate it from my grief for you, of course, because being alone is a big part of this, and you're not here to help and make me feel better. I always miss you so much when I'm sick, and this is like that except that it's something that people blame you for having. And even though Cymbalta is a prescription drug, when you say "withdrawal" people judge you for it. I miss your acceptance and understanding.
 
Please, please pray for me, especially tonight and tomorrow. I feel like I'm drowning. So throw me a rope!
 
Love you, need you,
Joan.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Of Mice and Mowers

Dear John,
 
The new lawnmower is good. It was lovely to mow and not end up looking like a scarecrow and having grass clippings in my eyes. This one is a lot safer because it doesn't throw anything out anywhere, so I don't have to worry so much about the back yard - Jethro still tends to dig up rocks, play with them, and leave them all over the yard. It will take me a little longer to mow now because the top speed for this mower is slower than the old one, but that's probably a good thing since I tend to go too fast for my age. The yard looks great.
 
I'm finding that vigorous physical activity helps with the anxiety, which is no help on work days but came in handy today It was really bad when I woke up this morning, and mowing helped. After that I had lunch and took a nap, then the anxiety got bad again so I dusted and swept. I couldn't vacuum because it was storming outside. I can't get the vacuum cleaner out with the dog inside because he still jumps on it, bites it, and generally tries to play with it like he did when he was a puppy. (This is another safety issue, and probably a personality problem.) I'll vacuum the area rugs tomorrow.
 
You should have seen Abby this afternoon. I've discovered that timid cats can gain self-confidence by play that hones their hunting skills, so I bought her a new mouse-on-a-string that squeaks when you jiggle it. It took her a while to figure out what to do with it, but she ended up catching it and worrying at it like a normal cat. She had a wonderful time. Jethro and Hunter sat to one side and watched, and a good time was had by all. She ended up taking a nap cuddled up with the mouse.
 
That's all from today - just a good, busy day off. I'm sure I would have enjoyed it if it weren't for the anxiety. I'll see Joe a week from tomorrow so there is relief in sight. Please pray for me as I get through this next week!
 
Still hanging on,
Joan.
 


Tuesday, June 24, 2014

On Existing Stubbornly

Dear John,
 
I had a good day at work. I'm off tomorrow so I'll get to play with my new lawnmower. And I got my yearly exam with Joe scheduled for next week. So life is good. And I feel so sad. I guess life just can't be very good without you.
 
What's missing in my life - besides you - is meaning. Everything feels so empty. I do all  the necessary stuff - go to work, pay bills, buy groceries, work in the yard, take care of the house, go to church, keep in touch with my friends - and none of it matters in the slightest.
 
I seem to be stuck here, don't I? I had hoped to be over this by now. The fact that I'm not makes me wonder if this is a permanent state. I've certainly known widows who spent decades waiting to die and wondering why they didn't. I'd prefer not to just exist until I die.
 
I know you wanted me to be happy; I know you still want that. I'm certainly open to the concept. But I seem to have no clue how to get there from here. Everything in my life is fine except that you're not here - it's just that you matter so much that, in comparison, everything else is completely inconsequential. Maybe meaning will come with time. Maybe you can get everybody organized to pray for me, and for all the widows that are having the same struggle. At least I have the consolation of knowing that I'm being normal again.
 
The one thing that cheers me is how much the animals love me. I don't know why - maybe because they don't have anybody else, either. I'm their human  so they love me and need me as much as I need them. They're here waiting for me when I get home from work, and they pile up in my lap with great excitement on the mornings when they realize that I'm not getting ready for work. I rescued them, and they rescued me right back. I'm so thankful for my three furbabies.
 
I'm sorry - I didn't mean to whine to you tonight. But I'm determined to be honest with you about how I feel. And this is how I feel tonight. I'm hoping this works out with time. If it doesn't, I will need to be stubborn. As you may have noticed, I'm very good at that.
 
Existing stubbornly,
Joan.