Thursday, January 31, 2013

My Mammy and Little Five Points

Dear John,
 
I found this photo on Pinterest. I'm not sure if the photo or the caption was more fascinating. The caption I found with it told the name and age of the infant and the name of the photographer, then said "smiling African American woman." Did they really not know that this was a southern child with her Mammy? Who on earth wrote that?
 
So that got me thinking about you, and all the Southernness you had to learn as you got to know me. I want to thank you for being so open-minded and respectful about my Southernness. You were fascinated by the idea of a Mammy, and never questioned my love for the woman who had been mine. It's a relationship belonging to a different time and place. But your respect was total, and that meant so much to me.
 
I grew up knowing that I'd never marry a Yankee - the cultural differences would be too great to bridge. By my late teens I saw that such a marriage could be workable, but it would take some work. To you, the only difference in our backgrounds was our accents and some culinary eccentricities. Then came UK Homecoming, and a whole bunch of differences blew up in your face.
 
Remember? Linda Ronstadt was there in concert, but you didn't take me to hear her. You took me to the little, musty Student Center Theater for a showing of Gone With the Wind. And that was a very bad decision. But it led to a very good conversation, and an important one. You thought that, being from the South, I'd love the chance to see the movie. I'd seen it when it was re-released, at the Fox Theater in Atlanta where it had premiered. And I decided I'd never put myself through that horrendous pain again.
 
Well, I watched it. I snuck a whole box of Kleenex into the theater in my purse. I lost it at the burning of Atlanta and never recovered. I cried to the end, out to the car, and for the next three hours. During those three hours I tried to explain and you tried to understand. Bless you, you were very patient and gentle, and you never said that I should be over it. Which is the reason you survived into your twenties.
 
For you, the Civil War had been an impersonal study of battles and tactics; for me, it was deaths in my family and the destruction of my homeland. For you, the burning of Atlanta was an obvious military move to shorten the war; for me it was personal - the street hospital location in the movie is Little Five Points, where I grew up shopping. This was my home being burned to the ground.
 
Then we went a layer deeper. I asked you how you'd feel if that had happened to your home, and you said it wouldn't matter since it was so long ago. As we hashed that out, I came to realize that we Southerners have an attachment to land and peoplehood that most Northerners just don't have. And then we went into the psychological ramifications of having lost a war, of a people having been conquered and occupied.
 
We sat in the car and talked, while the used-Kleenex pile grew, until after 3 in the morning. It was the only time I came in late enough to have to have the door unlocked, show ID, and sign in. Our security guard saw that I'd been crying, and bless his heart, he stopped me and made sure that I was okay and nobody had hurt me. And he understood my point of view, too.
 
You wonderful man! You never laughed, or dismissed or invalidated anything, or thought your view was superior to mine. You were actually fascinated by the whole thing. You were delighted to have found these hitherto-unknown depths in me - you said it just gave you so much more to learn about me and from me. Somebody throw a net over this man and marry him! Which, of course, I did. And for over 36 years it was a joke between us that you never would take me to a Linda Ronstadt concert.
 
I'm grateful for that night, for the mistake in judgment that sent us to the movie instead of the concert, and for all the time and effort you spent trying to understand me as well as you possibly could. You were still figuring out Southerners when we were in Greenville for a month in the summer of 2004 closing my parents' house. You never quit wanting to learn more and understand better. In the last months of your life you had Leadbelly on in the car, with me translating his lyrics line by line for you. And from you I learned that some people actually believe that Leadbelly has an accent of some sort.
 
To try to sum up: Thank you for respecting not only who I am, but where I came from and who my people are. Thank you for not minding that there were things about me that you'd never completely understand. Thank you for taking me just as I was and loving me. Thank you for loving me, the real me, and not some image that you'd projected onto me. Thank you for being the world's only perfect man. And the great wonder is that you achieved that rank without even being Southern!
 
Love you with all my little Southern pea-picking heart,
Joan.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Meatloaf Fixation

Dear John,
 
More rain today, now rising wind and dropping temperatures. The radar can't decide if we're getting blue stuff or pink stuff tonight. Whatever it is, it will be blowing around in 30-mph winds tomorrow. The dog's jumpy because of the wind and rain, I'm jumpy because I have a tummy upset, and Hunter only jumps when Jethro leaps at him. Now I'm in bed with the laptop in my lap, cat also in my lap, dog pressed up against my right hip as tight as he can be, all sound asleep. Now all I have to worry about is getting my hands to the keyboard.
 
There's only one thing I'd change about our years together, and it's been worrying me quite a bit. I wish I'd made meatloaf and mashed potatoes for you more often. Of course, there were years that we'd have had to eat it for breakfast, because that was the only meal we ate together. But seriously, that is my one regret. That was the first thing you wanted to eat when you got home. Did you get some in Heaven, or are such things irrelevant there? I doubt that the Heavenly Banquet consists of meatloaf and mashed potatoes. I haven't made it since you died - it doesn't seem right to make your favorite meal if you're not here to enjoy it. Please pray for me as I struggle with this. It sounds trivial, but sometimes it's a big weight on my conscience. I think I need to talk to Father about it.
 
Tonight I had beef that I'd put in the crockpot this morning, and brussels sprouts, and half of a tomato. Oh, and horseradish for the roast. It tasted so good - the best thing I've eaten in months. But I realized that I'm definitely cooking for only myself now. You didn't like brussels sprouts or raw tomatoes, so I would have served you the roast, but everything else would have been different. It seems crazy after all these years, to realize that I can eat collard greens and pickled beets and sauerkraut and ham hock all at one meal, and it doesn't matter. I can buy grated parmesan, not shredded; unfrosted strawberry turnovers and no frosted brown sugar-cinnamon. Because now I'm just feeding myself.
 
And my pantry and fridge are starting to look like your mother's. There's so much less in them. I went through the fridge today and threw out some outdated things, and the only one I replaced was the Miracle Whip. I'm eating my way through the food in the pantry and freezer to save money on groceries. And you know I don't need a lot of variety in food - I can cook a big pot of something and eat it for over a week. So I don't need a lot in the pantry or the fridge. It's simple, and it's cheap, and I guess it declares to all the world that I'm a widow.
 
That's all tonight - I just wanted to ask you to forgive me for not fixing meatloaf and mashed potatoes as often as I could have. I'm so sorry. Nothing would make me happier now than to fix them for you. Realism says that if this is my only regret after 34 years, I'm doing okay. But my heart says it's is something good that I neglected to do for you, and now it's too late. I can't cook for you anymore. But I can pray for you, and take care of the people you love, and the animals, and realize that I'm one of the people you love that I should also take care of, and continue to prepare and care for my soul so that I am ready to join you. Maybe I can bring some meatloaf and potatoes with me when I come!
 
You're shaking your head at me and telling me I'm being silly - that I made you very happy and that meatloaf isn't particularly signficant. Thanks for that. But I'll still worry over it for a while.
 
Your meatloaf-fixated wife,
Joan.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Meditations on Carole King

Dear John,
 
It's gray and foggy still, and has rained off and on all day. There have been some storms, so I've spent a good part of the evening with the dog piled in my lap in terror and the cat snoring on my shoulder.
 
I took Hunter for his 4-month check-up and vaccines today. In a month he's grown from 1.6 pounds to 3.6  - no wonder he's been eating me out of house and home. He more than doubled in size. He'll get his last vaccines next month. He's a sweet little thing, very affectionate and cuddly, and he travels happily in his carrier. And he and the dog are fond of each other and play quite well. I'm so glad to have them both.
 
I've been a little teary, in a sad and sentimental sort of way, since I talked to you last night. Remembering the last time you saw Jethro got me weepy. Then I got on Facebook, and a friend had posted Carole King's So Far Away. The lyrics started running in my head, and I cried and wailed with total abandon. "Long ago I reached for you, and there you stood." I don't think any song has reduced me so completely to mush since "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." It was good for me - I hadn't had a good cry in a while. Jethro came and licked my tears away while Hunter sat on my shoulder and rubbed my head with his paws. "If I could only work this life out my way, I'd rather spend it being close to you. But you're so far away."
 
The song is about physical separation, not death. But death, for us, is just a temporary physical separation. And it's more separate for me than for you. I think there are times, maybe lots of times, when you're right here with me - I'm the one with blind eyes that can only see this world. I still wish my calling plan reached Heaven. But if it did, honestly, would I ever get anything done around here? Verizon-to-Verizon, minutes don't count - I'd never hang up the phone. And all my life I've known, all the way to my bones, that those who are in Christ are joined to each other; it doesn't matter whether you're in this world or the next. Joined is joined. And you and I are joined sacramentally - the two became one flesh, in ways we couldn't have dreamed of before marriage, and probably in ways you understand now and I still don't.
 
I heard a Cialis commercial on television tonight - there was the usual disclaimer: Ask your doctor if your heart is healthy enough for sexual activity. And my brain immediately offered up the conclusion that my heart is definitely not. It's broken. It is incapable of sexual anything. What were those old, awful song lyrics? "She ripped out my heart and stomped that sucker flat?" Something like that. Well, your death took my heart and stomped that sucker flat. There are a lot of things my heart isn't healthy enough for. One of them appears to be the Tapestry album. Tomorrow I think I'll stay with Willie Dixon.
 
Tonight your little family will huddle together - me because I'm teary, Jethro because it's storming, Hunter because he's tired from his long car ride. And maybe your place won't be quite as empty as it seems.
 
Love you with all my broken heart,
Joan.

Monday, January 28, 2013

The Heart of a Dog

Dear John,
 
It's been a gray, foggy day, but warmer. Jethro and I went for a walk this afternoon in fog and drizzle. And I was thinking about the last time he saw you.
 
Poor creature! You'd gone to work on the 15th of January and never came home. On the 16th I boarded him and left for Indy, and didn't pick him up until the middle of February. Thank goodness he loves being at the vet's. I could see that he was puzzled. You weren't here, but I'd leave every day and come back smelling like you. The best way I can describe it is that he was waiting. I remember the day that I took underwear and slippers in for you - he saw me get them out and was so excited. That's when he knew for sure that Daddy was out there somewhere.
 
I'd always had a photo of him on your hospital wall. And when we went back to the Goshen ICU for the last time, the nurses said I could bring him in to see you. And I was so excited! I remember bringing him into the room on your last Monday. I closed the door so I could take him off the leash without him making rounds, but I left the blinds open so the nurses could see in. I had the big recliner up next to the bed so he'd be at your height. He jumped up and nuzzled and licked you, then he did something I hadn't planned on. He jumped straight up in the air (the dog's always had hops), over the siderails, and landed in bed right next to you. I rushed in to prevent disaster - the trach, the vent, the NG tube, the foley, all the IV lines - but he lay down very carefully right next to you. You picked up both arms and put them around the dog, and I was amazed to see you able to move that well. You had tears on your cheeks and he had the first big smile I'd seen on his face since January 14th. Then you both went to sleep for almost an hour. I sat by the bed with one hand on each of you. I saw nurses keep coming to the window and looking in; soon somebody brought a kleenex box. Then Jethro woke up and needed to go out, so I brought him home.
 
He was quiet and pensive that night. He finally knew where you were, but he knew well how sick you were. And four days later when Jen and I left in a hurry and came home in tears, he knew his Daddy was gone.
 
He's slept at his master's grave every night for six years.
There's nothing like the love of a dog, is there? Your dog and wife know you won't be coming to this home again. But we know where you are - I've been taught by the Church, and Jethro is without sin and doesn't need to be taught such things. And you're with Naomi and Caleb, dogs Jethro never knew. But he knows where Caleb's grave is, and goes over to visit every time he's outside. I'm sure he can smell both of them in the rugs and furniture. And he still smells your shoes when we go in the closet. Oh, how I wish I could smell what he smells in those shoes! I've tried, but my inadequate human nose just smells shoe, not the wearer. We're no longer waiting for you to come to this home; we're waiting to come to the real Home where you are. Hurry the day!
 
Your ever-faithful wife and dog,
Joan and Jethro.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Of Anthem & St. Augustine

Dear John,
 
God bless health insurance! Yes, I really said that. And no, I haven't sustained a blow to the head. We paid out $10,000 last year in bills and health insurance premiums. Out of curiosity, I totaled up what Anthem paid, and it's over $1,300,000. That's with some bills outstanding, and with Anthem's negotiated discount with the providers. So I suppose we got a good deal - $130 on the dollar.

And I'm very thankful for one provision of the new health care legislation: the part that outlawed the lifetime cap. The most generous cap we ever had was $1 million. Our health care would have run out in February. And that would mean that COBRA wouldn't be available to me now.

And the moral of that is: I suppose last year could have been worse. That's a frightening thought.

You worried about me being okay financially without you, and I appreciate all you did to try to take care of me. I'm not solvent yet, but am less unsolvent than I was. Especially with my fibromyalgia, you wanted to be here to take care of me. I was afraid to be financially on my own, too, but now I'm finding that I really don't care about that. It's all the other ways that I'm without you that matter. You did your best to protect me financially, and I appreciate it.

Somehow you always seemed to know when I wanted you to be protective and when I didn't. I know there were times that it was hard not to rush to my rescue. I remember that evening when we were at John and Adela's house with another student and his wife, and I said something negative about St. Augustine's theology. I had no idea Adela had done her dissertation on him. The other student thought you should rescue me, but I neither needed nor wanted it. I could hold my own quite well, and Adela and I had a good debate and both enjoyed it very much. We both understood St. Augustine, but we evaluated him from completely different ecclesiologies, so we respected and understood each other's positions. You never came to my intellectual rescue, and I thank you for that. But then, if I'd wanted you to do that, you wouldn't have married me in the first place.

You wanted a wife that was your intellectal equal. I don't know that I was that, but you treated me as if I was. And we were good intellectual partners, weren't we? After all, how many people can I talk to about both semipermeable membranes and the filioque? I miss your intellectual companionship. When I look at this photo, I imagine that's what you're saying to me now. And it feels good to still have you looking out for me. By the way, did I ever tell you that I adore you? I may have mentioned it once or twice.

Love you, adore you, and will not be torn apart from you,
Joan.








 

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Re Staples: Or, I've Turned Into My Mother

Dear John,
 
I have turned into my mother. It's a little matter of staples.
 
Remember after Mama died, when we spent that month in Greenville getting Daddy moved to assisted living, closing the house, and getting things ready for the estate sale? The first thing we did was go through their business records. We went through two shredders; we burned the motor out on the first one. There were cancelled checks going back forty years and three states, from banks that didn't exist anymore. And every item had at least six staples in it. Mama had stapled two things together, then stapled another to them, and another, and so on, until everything had a stack of overlapping staples in it. It was making you crazy, so I finished the business things and you went through the house with Daddy.
 
Well, today I was finishing the end-of-the-year filing for 2012. And I kept coming across - you guessed it - things with half a dozen staples in them. I started giggling and couldn't stop. I have turned into my mother. It would have made you crazy.
 
I owe you some craziness because I had to deal with your filing system. You put everything into accordion files under letters of the alphabet. Mysterious letters. There are some things that I have never figured out why they were under the letter they were. Even a cryptologist would have been baffled. I'm sure there was some association in your mind, but it wasn't in mine. Your system worked for you, and you never planned on it having to work for anybody else.
 
When I came home from Indy that weekend at the end of January to get the mail and pay bills, I was horrified by the files. I remember going back to Indy and telling you that I'd changed the whole thing - that you could put it back the way it was when you got home, but if I was going to be tending to it, I had to have it in some form that made sense to me. And you said that you were sure that whatever I'd done would be an improvement. I could hardly have made it worse. But you were so nice about it, and so sorry that I had to deal with all of that.
 
For the 2012 file, I got 8-section accordion files and put things under real words, like Insurance, and Medical, and Utilities. I got a separate file for just this year, for all the medical stuff. I separated that one into real words, too, like Drugs, and Home Care, and Hospitals, and Physicians. You'd be proud of my filing system, and of the fact that I've kept this last year in order. And you'd never let me forget about all those staples.
 
That's all tonight - I just had to let you have a good laugh at me. When it comes to home finance, it's all about the staples!
 
With as many kisses as the number of staples I took out today,
Joan.

Friday, January 25, 2013

My High-Risk Life Style

Dear John,
 
It's a good thing I don't believe in germs. And I figured out why there hasn't been any cat poop for six days. The sad thing is that those two statements are linked. It turns out that the dog has been eating the cat poop. And then licking me in the face. And on the mouth. Like I said, it's a good thing I don't believe in germs.
 
We both grew up that way, didn't we? Our mothers were farm girls and not squeamish about anything. I grew up plucking and dressing chickens on a wooden cutting board - not that we killed our own chickens in Atlanta, but because in the grocery stores chickens came with all their innards and most of their feathers. I also survived childhood before seat belts, sunscreen, or bicycle helmets were invented. I rode in the back of station wagons and pick-up trucks, ate raw cookie dough, and even had fish and milk in the same meal (my grandmother was convinced every time that I'd be dead by morning). Yep, I have lived a high-risk life. As an adult I worked in critical care units before universal precautions. I've been up to the elbows in every bodily secretion and have had most of them in my shoes. So I have an immune system. The cat poop doesn't seem to have harmed any of us.
 
I did, however, apply what ingenuity I have toward preventing further poop ingestion. I found litter boxes with covers, but none that Jethro couldn't get his head into. So I had to put the litter box where the cat can get to it but the dog can't. So: I brought the white dressing table up from the basement and put it in the workroom; I put a chair next to it, because Hunter is too small to jump all the way onto the table; I put his bed, which has a lid, next to the chair. Then I put him in the litter box and helped him find his way down. And I sincerely hope it works. I'll prowl on-line, too, and see if they have any litter boxes that would work.
 
This is not a problem I expected. But at least I don't believe in germs.
 
Your healthy and old-fashioned wife,
Joan.
 
P.S. - I found the cartoon on Pinterest, and knew you'd love it. So it's just here for you to enjoy!

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Ceremonial Clothespin Removal

Dear John,
 
And now we have it - the ceremonial removal of the clothespin!
 
After starting with a paper clip and advancing to a bigger paper clip, it finally took a clothespin to hold all the bills that were pending settlement of the date-of-death issue. And that's how important you are to the universe - hoards of billing entities waited with baited breath for the greater part of last year, longing for the final determination of just when you died.
 
Today I went through the files, and pulled and organized everything for 2012. So I removed the clothespin this evening. There are only two bills pending now. It's been at least two months since I heard from either of them, so I'm pretty sure everything is settled. But I left those two out just in case.
 
What we actually paid in medical bills is ridiculously small compared to the total amount billed. I'm so thankful to Panera for the quality of their health insurance! Our medical deductible will be huge, though, since insurance payments count. I met with Michael last week - he's going to email me a list of what I need to bring him. I'll take my laptop in with me again, and he can pull from Quicken almost everything he needs. I'm just waiting for all my forms to arrive. I already have statements from the bank and Social Security. And, as anal as I am, the Taxes file had been kept ready all year.
 
I missed you last night, but you're probably glad you weren't here. I had a bad fibro night - not pain, but paresthesia. I itched and twitched and stung and squirmed all over. I tried to go to bed at 10:30, took 50 mg of Bendaryl at 11:30, took 25 more at 1:00, and at 3:00 finally took oxycodone. And I got to sleep around 5. Kathy didn't need me today, thank goodness, so the exhausted animals and I slept in until 8, then had breakfast and a 2-hour nap. And you already know how I spent my evening. It's been an odd day, but a productive one.
 
I'm heading off to bed now, hoping for a better night. I'll leave you with this photo, to commemorate the great event.
 
Love you so much,
Joan.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Hunter Gets A Home

Dear John,
 
Thank you for the trip to Morocco last night - we had a good time until the Russian mob found us again. I have no idea why I keep dreaming about them. I probably watch too much Burn Notice. I thought it was interesting that Kathy and Kirby brought their cat and flew all that distance so I could help them give Shadow his medicine, but it was nice to see them.
 
This dream was an interesting variation on a theme. You know that, for the first couple of months after you died, I had nightmares every night that I was trying to rescue you from something. And those dreams came back the week before Chrismas.This one had a similar story line but the mood was different. It was more like a dark comedy. I assume this is progress - at least it's more pleasant.
 
Your little family had fun today. The cat tower arrived and I spent the early afternoon putting it together. Then I hauled furniture around, finding a place for it in the living room. It ended up in the southwest corner - I put the stereo on the other side of the recliner. I may tweak it a bit, and I need to re-hang one painting, but it really works well for such a small room.
 
And the cat loves it. I have his food dish up out of Jethro's reach. It has a rope, and two toys on strings, and he's loving all of them. Tonight he took a nap on the highest platform. He loves the dog, but really needed a place of his own that was unassailable by canines. Oh, and he's already figured out that the sisal posts are great for scratching. So all is well and all are happy. I found in on Amazon for half the price it was everwhere else. It's so much fun to watch him play on it - I think even you would enjoy it.
 
After all this redecorating, we're all ready for a good night's sleep. Sleep good - I love you so very much.
 
The menagerie and me,
Joan.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Cat Paws, Biceps, & Baseball

Dear John,
 
There's not much to say tonight. I had a slowish day at work. Right now I have a cat asleep in my lap and a dog asleep at my feet. And I will join them soon.
 
I'm on Day 3 of this headache. It's not as bad today as it was when it started - I'm keeping on top of it with aspirin. I do miss having you here to rub my head. The cat massages it with his front paws, but it's not the same. He doesn't have your upper body strength.
 
I remember when the umpiring season would start every year. You always had good arm muscles because of the lifting you did at work. But by the middle of baseball season, your right upper arm was amazing. Working the plate and calling strikes did wonderful things for your muscles. I was always so proud of you for being an umpire. It's a hard job. It's not just knowing the rule book; it's also dealing with coaches and parents and players. (oh, my) The physical demands aren't trivial, either, especially when you factor in the weather. I loved going to games and watching you work. One of my favorite photos of you is the one that Harold took when you were working the plate at a Little League game. And you taught me a lot - I look at that photo and see that you were in the perfect position to make the call.
 
And because you taught me a lot, I got to be official scorer for the Goshen Men's League tournaments. That was loads of fun. I got to hang out with the umpires and be one of the guys - that was always a delight. I enjoyed the umpires you worked with. And I enjoyed keeping score. Those are good memories.
 
I still can't watch baseball. You're too much a part of it for me. (Of course, there are a lot of Cubs fans that sometimes can't bear to watch baseball.) I'll try again in the spring. I'll be ready someday. But for now I have to wait, because there's no crying in baseball.
 
I'm the last one awake. It's time I joined the rest of the mammals. I miss you at bedtime - I reach over and put my hand in that dip in the mattress, and cry sometimes. I wish you were here.
 
Love you always,
Joan.

Monday, January 21, 2013

The Blizzard Birthday: 1978

Dear John,
 
I've been thinking back over some past birthdays, and there's always one that jumps out - 1978, your 22nd birthday.
 
Remember? It was the blizzard of 1978. You and I managed to get to school in time for the new semester, but so many people didn't that they delayed the start for a week. Since no classes had met yet, we didn't have textbooks, syllabi, or anything to do for classes. They gave us weekend open house hours, and we all just had fun. Larry had this tiny television with Pong on it, and that provided hours of entertainment. And it made your dorm room the social center. Becky and I came over, since Kyle lived two doors down, and Mike and Tom were there, and a couple of others whose names I don't remember now.
 
The parking lots were kept plowed - I have a photo of my VW bug with snow three feet deep over the top of it. There was no getting out of the parking lots. So we ate in the cafeteria, then they ran out of everything but water and powdered eggs. After 24 hours of that, helicopters came and dropped food onto the soccer field and the menu got better.
 
Then your birthday came. And it was still snowing. We all had a bit of cabin fever by then, and we were determined to walk two blocks down to Pizza King for your birthday dinner. I remember that the sidewalk was snow-packed, with walls of snow up to my sholders on both sides. There was a heavy snow that night, so we went single-file down those sidewalks, each one hanging on to the back of the parka in front, and we made it there in a little over half an hour. It took longer to get back, since it was uphill. It was an adventure, and it was great to get out of the dorm complex for the first time in a week.
 
That winter broke snow and temperature records, and we wondered if the snow piles in the church parking lot would be melted by May 20th for our wedding. They were, but barely. That has become the winter by which I measure all other winters. And it was a birthday party of necessity, but a good time.
 
Those are good memories. And I'll always remember the Ron/John/Josh birthday party we had here last night. You were a part of it for everybody. They are very sad that you're not here, and they do a good job of looking after me. And the animals are still worn out from yesterday, which is good since I've had this killer headache for 26 hours now. I did sleep well last night, and think I will again. This kind of headache is exhausting.
 
You have no more headaches, no more blizzards, and I suppose no more birthdays, either. But as your birthday comes around, please do remember to pray for Becky, and look Kyle up if you're not together. I'd forgotten that he died on your 37th birthday. So you and Kyle remember that January 20th in 1978 and have a good laugh about it, then pray for your wives who love you, and long to be with you.
 
Forever married to you,
Joan.

The Ron/John/Josh Birthday Party

Dear John,
 
First, happy birthday! I'm so, so glad you were born. And I'm glad I got to be with you for more than half of those years.
 
Ron called earlier this week, about coming over here to celebrate both of your birthdays. I thought it was a great idea, and said to invite any of the crowd that he wanted to. So by the end of it, we were supposed to have 13 people here - 9 adults and 4 children. We ended up with 11 - Brian and Bekah couldn't come. The house was packed! And a good time was had by all. Jethro hung out with the adults and Hunter played with the kids. Now the animals are just exhausted.
 
I was thinking about something tonight. You remember the kind of hippie entertaining we did when we were all just out of college - a bunch of people go to somebody's house, you sit on the floor because there's not enough furniture for everybody, you eat whatever somebody has and some of what other people have that goes with it, drink hot tea, and talk. And you know how folks in their mid-50s are supposed to entertain - invite people to a sit-down meal, at a real table, where the hostess fixes everything and people are well-behaved and sedate, have quiet dignified conversations, mosly about business or children, then go home. Well,, somehow we never did outgrow the old way, and these friends haven't either. Nobody has a penny, and that's alright. We love each other. And that's what matters. If all I had was cereal and milk, that would be fine. It's not about the event - it's about spending time with people.
 
And It certainly isn't about impressing anybody. All I had enough of was that old set of weavewood trays that Pizza Hut discontinued in the 1980s. I had three different sets of bowls out, two kinds of spoons, and for glasses we used the UK cups that we saved after home football games, and the cups they gave away at Wrigley Field when the expansion teams were created. We all crowded into the living room, leaving very little floor space, which the dog and cat were happy to fill up for us.We had people and animals crawling all over each other. And we had a great time.
 
And so, I finally figured out why it feels so comfortable to me - this is the way we used to have friends over, and the way we still like to. It feels good to me. And it seems to feel good to everybody else, too. I guess we never did completely grow up, did we? And if growing up means having to have a big sit-down dinner, the I just refuse to grow up. So there.
 
Happy birthday. I love you so very much,
Joan.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Saved - By Jen & Amazon

Dear John,
 
Two crises are solved. Jen and Amazon came to my rescue.
 
The most pressing disaster involved the back storm door. It's been frozen shut since the freezing rain last Saturday night. Every time Jethro wanted out, I had to use the hair dryer to loosen up the bottom of the door; sometimes it would re-freeze by the time he wanted back in. This has been a major annoyance. And nobody but me was interested in having Jethro use Hunter's litter box.
 
Yesterday I was grousing to Jen about it and she very kindly had a brainstorm. She said, "Oil it." So I came home, opened it with the hair dryer, got out a tin of 3-in-1 oil I remember my mother using, put some on a cotton ball, and rubbed it over the part of the sill that the door covers. And it's been fine ever since. That makes it so much easier to get up at 3 AM to let the dog out.
 
The other problem centers around Hunter's food dish. Whenever I turn my back, Jethro eats the cat food. I'm sure he has it all wolfed down by the time I'm down the driveway, so poor Hunter is half-starved when I get home from work. I need to put his bowl out of Jethro's reach. I thought about the top of the dryer, but I don't want to have to leave the laundry room door open all the time. So I've been looking for a cat tower. That would give me a high place for the food bowl, and also give Hunter place to go the get away from Jethro without having to go under furniture. What I can find around here is limited and expensive. So I hit the internet.
 
I found a huge variety and range of prices. I ended up on Amazon - I got one for $60 and free shipping, that was on other sites for $85 and unfree shipping. It should be here by Tuesday. While I had free shipping from Amazon, I looked through the CDs. I ordered one by Blind Willie McTell, I Am the Blues by Willie Dixon, and a DVD about the history of Delta Blues - for a total of under $10. One of the CDs was $2.50.  A good shopping trip!
 
So, to sum up: I can let the dog out without the hair dryer, and the cat should be able to eat in peace by Wednesday. And I love you so much for listening to me rattle on about things that don't concern you at all. But maybe they do - whatever concerned me always concerned you. Maybe that hasn't changed. I hope it hasn't. I know your love for me hasn't. I don't know how much of my life the Lord allows you to see, but I hope you're with me every step. So now you know that these two problems are solved. Maybe you'll sleep a bit better now.
 
Love you great huge bunches,
Joan. 

Friday, January 18, 2013

I've Got to Be Me - If You Don't Mind

Dear John,
 
It's almost midnight - but it's Friday night, so I can stay up a later. I worked thirty-two hours this week and enjoyed it all. Kathy was out of town, so I could tackle one of those big, messy jobs that I can't do when clients are going to be seeing my office. It took me until Thursday to get the place respectable-looking again. But it looks better and functions better, and I had great fun doing it.
 
I used to tackle big jobs around the house when you went out of town. Remember? Things like painting the china closet. When you were around you'd tell me to stop, take a break, eat, sleep - unimportant things like that. You'd get worried about me working too hard. But some projects just require that, and that's all there is to it. So you do them when you're excited and motivated about them, and schedule a couple of days to crash when it's done. I'd wait for you to go out of town, then I'd get them done without worrying you, and without having to stop to cook or clean up before you got home from work. I could work until I dropped and stay as dirty and sweaty as I wanted to and live on PBJs. And when you got home, I'd have a big surprise for you.
 
And that was the most fun - surprising you. Remember the time I put together the new entertainment center, moved everything into it, hooked it up, and had the television on when you got home? You asked me who had come over and connected the components. I loved the look on your face when I told you that I had done it. You wanted to protect me from being dirty and sweaty and over-tired - you thought that was your job. But sometimes I didn't want to let you have all the fun, so I'd wait until you were gone overnight and jump in. And you were always proud of me and of what I'd done.
 
You are the only man I've ever known who loved me so much, but let me be me so freely. And to you that sentence sounds ridiculous, because if you love me, then you want me to be completely the me that you love. And you're being logical again. But, trust me, very few men are like that. And I'm grateful to you. Over the years of our marriage, you put up with me tackling gardening, interior and exterior painting, plumbing, wiring, fence-building, canning, quilting, knitting, counted cross stitch - on top of being a critical care nurse. And you let me go back for my MA in church history. And at church, you supported me as your co-pastor and adult Sunday school teacher, then secretary, librarian, head chanter, and choir director. You've let me strike out and try all kinds of things, learn some traditionally male skills, and pursue whatever I was interested in. Instead of trying to keep me the same, you actively encouraged me to grow and change. If that doesn't make you the world's only perfect man, I can't imagine what would.
 
So I love you, adore you, and worship the ground you walk on - that was the only thing I did that you didn't understand. But that's okay - everybody else understands. And so you're invited to a party Sunday - it's a birthday party for you and Ron. I think it's fascinating that our godson was born on your twentieth birthday. He's rounding up some church friends, and they'll all come over here sometime after church on Sunday. I think I'll fix up a huge stockpot of vegetable beef soup/stew, then people can munch on it all evening. It will be a lot of fun. But it would be a lot more fun if you come, too. See if you can get a hall pass, and drop in if you can. If you can't, we'll know you're really here anyway. We all love you a lot.
 
But only I adore you and worship the ground you walk on. That's my job, as your wife,
Joan.
 


Thursday, January 17, 2013

A Fixed Point in My Surreal World

Dear John,
 
I'm realizing how much of my life feels completely surreal these days. My head knows this is reality, but it doesn't feel that way.
 
I know that I'm a widow, but when I say it, it feels completely unreal. I don't know why. Like all married women, I knew I would most likely be a widow one day. Your health history made it even more likely. But to say, "I am a widow" seems unbelievable. Maybe it's just that being your wife has been so central to my identity. If I'm your widow instead of your wife, my existence is called into question. But either way I'm still your something - a large part of me is still defined by my relationship to you. So that hasn't changed.
 
Being here still feels surreal. I remember one summer evening years ago, when we were watching a Little League baseball game here in Topeka. I realized there was a corn field behind me and cows grazing beyond the outfield fence. I remember thinking, "Where am I, and how did I get here?" After all, I grew up in Atlanta. Living in a town of 1200 people was not on my radar. I had a moment of complete disorientation that night. Occasionally I still feel that jolt of shock and disorientation at the difference between where I am and where I came from. I love it here - I hope to leave this house for the last time in Yeager's hearse. But sometimes the unexpectedness of it hits me.
 
And then there's the most surreal statement of all: I have a cat. Saying the words "my cat" is shocking. Being here at home with the little critter feels very natural. But state the fact in words, and it sounds completely unreal. Hunter can live here, but I cannot possibly have a cat. What an outlandish idea.
 
Sometimes living with these impossibilities is a bit overwhelming. I wander on my disoriented, baffled way, and come here and talk to you every night. This is the one fixed point in my universe. And I mean that in all seriousness. This is the only thing I do that feels normal and believable. Thank you for listening, for providing the only point of reference I have. In a way, I'm clinging to you to help me make sense of everything else. Thank you for that.
 
Confusedly yours,
Joan.
 


Wednesday, January 16, 2013

I Have Become Comfortably Numb

Dear John,
 
I've been analyzing this periodic swing between unbearable pain and feeling positive about my life. (You're laughing, and getting ready to make a joke about me analyzing something. I know - I'm a head person - deal with it.) It seems to me that I have this injury that is painful and is healing very slowly. When it's been too painful for too long, somebody comes along and gives me a nerve block and lets the wound scab over. After a while the nerve block wears off and the scab gets pulled off, and I'm back in a fetal position eating Pop Tarts.
 
Right now I'm not shut down - I have plenty of emotion about everything else in my life. When it comes to you, I have some emotions, primarily gratitude to and for you, and taking a great deal of pleasure in memories. The rest of it is shut off. And I can't even enumerate for you what is shut off, because if I think of things and name the, the floodgates will open. When I'm numb, I can't go digging around where the scab is. I'll just get it bleeding again.
 
These times of numbness are generally viewed as the mind's way of protecting itself - before the circuits overload, the breaker takes over. I'm wondering if it isn't a gift of God, who knows me and knows which one I need now. It's a much simpler explanation, isn't it? Occam would approve.
 
In the painful phase, I'm gentle with myself - I don't do things that I'm not emotionally ready to; I make time for solitude; I keep Pop Tarts in the pantry; I see very few people. In the numb phase, being gentle with myself looks very different: I spend more time with other people, I try new things (like getting a cat), I'm more physically active, I cook more and eat healthier. In the pain phase, I curl into myself. In the numb phase, I get up, go out, and be with people. And I have more energy and feel better physically.
 
And so I keep alternating. But I trust the movement from one thing to another. I couldn't stand either one without the other. So as you read these letters and see feeling that contradict each other, that's what's going on. You probably figured it out long before I did - this won't surprise you any. But I'm making progress in my own understanding. And I'd catch on much sooner if you'd just tell me what you see, like you used to. I miss talking to you more than everything else combined, so please do feel free.
 
I'm late getting to bed - I'm subbing for Kathy at BNI tomorrow, so I'll be up at 5:30. Some sleep would be nice. I hope the critters cooperate. Please pray that I sleep well tonight.You sleep well, too.
 
Loving you, missing you,
Joan.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

How Many Cups Died For This?

Dear John,
 
It's January 15th. On this day last year you got up and went to work, ended up in the hospital, and never came home again. Except for 36 miserable hours when we came home from Indy, and you ended up in Goshen with pneumonia. Jethro was at the vet then, so he never saw you except in ICU right before you died.
 
It was so nice of you to call me yourself - it was less scary for you to tell me you'd passed out at work than to have somebody else do it. And as much as you scared everybody there, I doubt that anybody was in any fit state to do it, anyway. It must have been awful for them, coming around the corner into the back and finding you on the floor. The amazing thing is that, in a room of tile and hard surfaces, you landed right on a box of cups and didn't even get a bruise. I never did hear how the cups fared.
 
We knew you had a right bundle branch block and a left anterior hemiblock, so hearing that you passed out wasn't shocking. We figured you'd temporarily completed the block and needed a permanent pacemaker, and we were right. But all the testing they did in Indy showed that the radiation damage was much more extensive than we knew, and everything unraveled at one time.
 
I've always appreciated the way you handled medical crises, yours or mine. You were so matter-of-fact about things. You pretty well knew, even before marrying a critical care nurse, that all life hangs on a thread and anything can happen to anybody at any time. You never wondered why things happened to you - you didn't consider yourself somehow exempt.
 
But I know, even before the lung cancer, that you were tired of it - it was always one thing after another. And after having myocarditis, you never felt the same. And I'm so, so glad that you're healed and well now, without the burden of a physical body. For me, I'm glad to know that my turn will come someday. I cry for myself because it's hard to be without you for a while, but I've never cried for you. I'm happy for you.
 
That's a lot of mulling over a date in January. (Brace yourself when we get to April.) You've always been nice about my mullings. A year ago I had half a day of normal life. And that was my last. And I can hear you pointing out that I'm not normal enough to have - or, quite possibly, recognize - normal. And I can see the smile that you'd say it with. And I love it. Enjoy your new normal while I wait for mine!
 
Love you so much,
Joan.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Bad Hair and Frozen Doors

Dear John,
 
I got the sweetest thing in the mail today. It was a letter and some old photos from your sister. The photos ranged from you as a toddler to twenty years ago. Some I'd never seen before. And they document all my unfortunate hair styles over the years - I'm sorry I made you look at some of them. Except for the hair, they're wonderful to look at.
 
We miss you here. Your mother has lost two of her three children to cancer. Irene, as she says, grabbed all the good genes, but she's the only child now. Jen has lost her father, and at a difficult time for her to not have a Dad to talk to. And the church still grieves for you. And the worst story of all - at least to you - is poor Jethro. The dog got so depressed that I had to get him a cat, Heaven help us.
 
There was a night last week that I slept badly. I went to sleep with the dog snuggled up against me and the cat playing in the living room. I woke up an hour or so later with the dog's rear firmly in my chest and a very hot sensation on the top of my head, which turned out to be the cat. (I don't know what it is about my head, that these animals want to sit on it.) The two of them moved around all night. Jethro alternated between snuggling up with me and lying on my legs, and the cat slept in various positions on my neck and head. And they put out so much heat that I got up and put on my summer nightgown.
 
Last night we didn't sleep much, either. The blame belongs to the dog's tummy and the back door. Jethro needed to go out every hour-and-a-half all night. And the freezing rain froze the back door shut. So every time he needed out, I had to use the hair dryer to thaw the door before I could open it. By the time I tried to open it again, it had re-frozen. And it's still frozen. It's going down to 14 tonight, so it won't thaw soon.
 
That's all the news. Except for the frozen door, we're doing fine. Hunter just left his toys and jumped on the keyboard, so we're all agreed that it's bedtime. We love you so much!
 
Sleep well,
Joan.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Reporting In: 9 Months

Dear John,
 
It's another anniversary - nine months now. (Well, THAT explains the pain, doesn't it?) In some ways it seems like you died last week, and in some ways I feel like I've been a widow for decades. I'm still having problems with time.
 
What I am now is amazed. It's hard to believe that I feel this much better because the holidays are over. I knew they'd be hard, but I had no idea how hard. I spent the better part of two months curled up in a fetal position, watching junk television, eating poptarts, and snivelling. I couldn't even make it to church, because that was so much a part of us and the memories were just too much. Now I'm back on my emotional feet, and back at church. And it is good.
 
People that knew you well are encouraged that I got a cat. That's the first thing I've done that I would not have done if you were here, so Jen and Kathy think I'm making progress. If you were here, Jethro wouldn't have been so depressed that I needed the cat. But you get the idea. It's an active change that I chose to make. And doing that is also good. Jethro is doing so much better because of Hunter, and so am I. This tiny little creature gives us a lot of love as well as entertainment. I took this picture today - I had to record the moment. They were both asleep, Jethro on my lap and Hunter on my shoulder. Hunter woke up, stretched, looked around for Jethro, the climbed down and curled up next to him. Jethro stroked him with his right foreleg, then went back to sleep. I think they're doing fine.
 
And maybe I am, too. I'm certainly doing better than I was a couple of weeks ago. It took effort to get to church this morning, but once I was there I loved it. It will require discipline for a while, I imagine. It still feels strange to see behind the iconostasis, and not see you there serving as subdeacon. But everybody was glad to see me, and seemed to understand why I disappeared for the holiday season. And I met two new familes today. This is our twentieth year as a parish, and we have nearly a hundred people. And we have lots of young families and babies. And that is good, too.
 
So it seems that a lot of things are good. I would gladly give up everything to be with you. But I'll get there when the time is right. You were just impatient and had to go on ahead without me. But, like I said last night, you can't get rid of me with just a little thing like death. We're joined sacramentally and forever. So there.
 
Love you forever and ever,
Joan.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Lessons From the Bathtub

Dear John,
 
It was so good to come visit you today. It's been a while, being winter and cold and wet and all. And I had been coming by after work, but this time of year it's dark when I get off. So when the temperature hit 60 today, I had to come by. I sat on the big towel I started carrying after the day I sat on the anthill, and stayed until the damp began to soak through. I'd been to the grocery store and I was starving - that's why I was eating the apple. And Jen will be happy - I refrained from digging on my side of the plot. It felt good to be there with you again.
 
I've been thinking about the fact that I still have your name. Taking it was one of the great joys of my life. Giving up my own name was something I could sacrifice for you, and it made me very happy to do it. Somehow it was theologically important as well as emotionally significant. I've always been very proud and happy to have your name. And the fact that I still have it - will have it for the rest of my life - says that I'm still yours. Your death hasn't changed the fact that I gave myself to you. So you're still stuck with me. I'm not taking myself back. There are some associations that even dying can't save you from!
 
It was a warm, beautiful day today. I had the car windows down. On my side of the cemetery plot I saw some clover with tiny blue flowers on it. Weather this year has been strange. But a cold frnt is coming through tonight and it's raining, so the forecast is for sleet and freezing rain later tonight and tomorrow. I've been looking forward so much to going to church, but unless the weather people are wrong I won't be going anywhere. I'll get up in the morning and try. But don't worry - I won't take chances.
 
It's time to take the critters and myself off to bed. I love you so much, and am even happier to have your name now than I was 34 years ago. And I love you more than I did then, though I loved you then as much as I could love. I remember thinking about pain when I was little and in the bathtub, and it seemed to me that we all start out with hearts that are solid, like rock, with no hollow places in them. Then pain comes along and hollows out our hearts. But the hollow places are where we can hold joy. So the more pain we have, the more joy our hearts can hold. Now I would ammend that to say both joy and love. Pain makes us able to love more. So, in an odd way, pain is its own reward.
 
Love you and your name,
Joan.
 


Friday, January 11, 2013

Table Manners, Radio, & Mileage

Dear John,
 
Don't be surprised if I get up and run off - the cat discovered the top of the dining room table about 15 minutes ago, and I'm training him to stay off of it. So I'm following him around with the water sprayer. And every time I spray him, Jethro runs to his rescue and licks the water off. I'm outnumbered.
 
Today was a milestone of sorts: I listened to the car radio. It wasn't for long, but the longest that I have since the day your cancer was diagnosed. I turned the radio on in the car because I was feeling sleepy and Blind Willie McTell wasn't helping. And it wasn't bad because I had the oldies stations on - that music goes back way before I met you, so there aren't the painful associations I have with most of the music piped into stores. Memories of the 1960s are okay.
 
And speaking of that, I had a strange sort of shock today. I was listening to something that came out in the spring of 1969, and it occurred to that my life is an unbroken continuum from that spring to today. Obviously true, but it shook me up. 1969 seems so far away, and who I was in 1969 seems so different, too. Maybe it's like Indiana Jones said - it's not the years, it's the mileage. I haven't changed in any fundamental way. I'm just older. In 1969 I had my life ahead of me, and was full of hope and optimism. Now I have more yesterdays than tomorrows, and know struggle and pain. I'll need to ponder this.
 
But for now, I've listened to oldies and once again separated the animals. I'm not who I was, but that's okay. I wish you were here - to help with the animals as well as for me - but if you were here the dog wouldn't have gotten so depressed that he needed the cat, so it's all moot anyway. The cat is in no way a substitute for you. for either of us. But he's a good addition to the family.
 
Oh, you would have loved this last night. I turned out the light and lay down while the animals were having their evening rampage. Then Jethro came and lay down on your side of the bed with his head on your pillow. After a little while, Hunter came in and lay down between us, with his head on the pillow. I wished somebody could have taken a picture. We all went to sleep like that. We'll all pile up in the bed again tonight, and two of us will wish you were here.
 
Love you with all my heart, whoever I am,
Joan.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Return of the Death Date Zombie

Dear John,
 
The Death Date Zombie is back. (imagine piercing female scream here) After the last date-of-death problem in November, the COBRA was reinstated and the were bills paid. What I didn't know was that my dental and vision insurance were also cancelled. I called in the Cavalry again - left a message for Erin. This thing has become "The Error That Wouldn't Die." I think the bills will all be settled before a year is out. They would have been settled before six months if it weren't for this error. But what would I have done with my free time? I'm still amazed at how nice all the people on the phone are to me.
 
I've been thinking about how different I feel now that the holidays are over. The best way to describe it is that I've moved from despair to hope. Last week I had hope for hope - I didn't feel better, but felt like some day I would. This week I do feel better. And the difference is that I feel hopeful about the rest of my life. I don't love you any less, or miss you any less. The way I feel about you is the same. The difference is how I feel about my future. The only reason I can come up with is that the holidays are over, and I know that's part of it. But it's only part. The rest of it I can't explain. Maybe it's just a gift. I just know it feels so good to feel good, and I'm grateful.
 
I'm coming - leave the light on.
This photo has two meanings for me. The ladder I'm climbing is the one that leads to Heaven, and to you. But it's also the ladder from despair to hope. I do best when I climb both at the same time. I know how much you want me to be happy - we had our talks about that - and I'll never be the same kind of happy I was with you. But maybe I can live with hope instead of despair. And I know that will make you happy, too.
 
Love you great bunches,
Joan.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Feisty Animals & the Dissection of Christmas

Dear John,
 
It's late and your little family is getting sleepy. That's good, because an hour ago I despaired of ever sleeping again. The animals are getting rested up from their mom being out of town - they weren't just rambunctious tonight, they were downright riotous. They ran all over the house chasing each other, then they decided to play on the couch and ran all over me until I broke it up. When they play, the dog looks ferocious, and you'd think he was killing the cat until you hear the purring. For some reason this cat likes having his head in the dog's mouth. And I don't have as much patience with it tonight as I usually have. I'm looking forward to sleeping in tomorrow, and hoping the animals let me.
 
The world looks very different now that the holidays are over. I think there were a lot of things that made the Christmas season hard for me. There are all the memories of Christmases past, and the cultural ideal that nobody can ever live up to, and all the home-and-family emphasis that my life doesn't live up to anymore. It's really no wonder that there are so many suicides around Christmas. The season shines a spotlight on your pain and then tells you that you have to be happy.
 
So all of that is over now, and I'm feeling positively human. It's been sunny and a little bit warmer. It's supposed to be in the 50s later this week, but raining. I may open the windows a bit and air out the house. I know you're amazed that I ever closed them. You'd come home from work and make me close them, either because it was 50 or 90 inside. It was good that you looked after me - I do love the smells and sounds of outside.
 
That's all that's going on here. I'd better get the dog, who is outside barking at 11:15 at night. And the cat is bounding around the house with one of his toys. There may be no sleep here after all!
 
Love you so much,
Joan.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

There's No Place Like Home

Dear John,
There's no place like home!
I'm home. And the critters mobbed me. Then they mobbed each other. Then they curled up and went to sleep. I expected Jethro to wear himself out at the vet's, even if he was only there one day. I didn't know what to expect from the cat, but he's worn out, too. He probably took advantage of the dog-free time to explore the house and play. He ran to me when I came in, and has been curled up with me ever since. It's nice to be welcomed home.
 
Have you noticed that we didn't have hotel adventures when we went places together (except for Hayes, Kansas), but I've had them every time I traveled without you, even if you made the reservations? The trip to the Keys for Elyssa's birth is legendary for its hotel problems, the trip to Lexington was the one with the bat in my room, and this one you know about. It seem that I can't travel safely without you.
 
When we traveled together, our adventures always pertained to the car. There was the night the battery fell into the radiator fan, the two tires we blew in Clare, Michigan, and the day we blew three tires (in sequence, thank goodness, not unison) in the middle of nowhere. I still don't know where we were that day, and I had the map. Oh, and we had the flat outside Winston-Salem that day - the adventure there was the repair shop, not the tire. We finally decided to never take the car out of the garage again on our anniversary.
 
I'm happy tonight. It felt good to be in Indianapolis. The Dreaded Holiday Season is over and life is getting back to the usual routine. And going back put the other bookend on the year. I was there just a week short of a year after we first got there. Putting that other bookend in place lightened something in my heart. I know this doesn't make a lick of sense, but somehow it's true. If it gets any more coherent in my head, I'll let you know. I just know that whatever it is, is good. And it's good to be home again - my critters, my bed, my kitchen, my television channels, my bathroom - where no fist has ever been put through the drywall, and I have luxuries like lights over the mirror.
 
Your loving, incoherent, homebody wife,
Joan.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Back Home Again In Indianapolis

Dear John,
 
I'm in Indy for the first time since you were discharged from Methodist last February. Being back is very emotional and, as strange as it sounds, I can't figure out what the emotion is. Maybe I'm just feeling sentimental. The car is confused - it wanted to turn in at the Methodist parking garage, then it wanted to turn at the driveway to Candlewood. I wish I had some free time. I want so bad to go to Methodist, eat in the cafeteria, go visit CCU and say thank-you, stop in at the cath lab, text Jill and ask if she has time to get tea with me. It will be sad leaving tomorrow without going there. I'm surprised to find how attached I've become to the place. Maybe I'll come back alone sometime and make a sentimental journey.
 
The hotel has been an adventure, rather like the one in Hayes, Kansas was. The desk staff is wonderful.  But the light over the sink is burned out and they don't have any replacement bulbs, the drapes are coming down, I have a double bed with one pillow, and there's a rather disconcerting fist-sized hole in the bathroom wall. And tonight Notre Dame is playing Alabama for the national championship, and they don't get ESPN. They get ESPN2 and ESPNU, but not ESPN. And their wi-fi won't let me watch it on my laptop. So I will sleep tonight after all.
 
And I should go to bed soon, since I'll be getting up at 5:30. I'm not sure what I want to say to you tonight. I think I just want to sit and stare adoringly at you. My heart is full, being back here. I feel close to you here. If I do cry tonight, it will be because of the very special time we had together here. Thank you for those days. Thank you for saying all the things you said you wanted to be sure you had time to say to me. Thank you for loving me.
 
Love you with all my heart,
Joan.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Want to Have Some Fun With Me?

Dear John,
 
We had a peaceful night. I woke up once lying on my back, with Jethro snuggled up against my right shoulder and the cat curled up on my stomach. They weren't happy when I got up to go to the bathroom, poor creatures. I had a massive allergic-to-something-or-other attack in the middle of the night. I dosed myself with Benadryl and slept it off until 11 this morning. I hated to miss church on the Feast of Theophany.
When Thou, O Lord, was baptized in the Jordan, worship of the Trinity was made manifest. For the voice of the Father bore witness unto you, calling you His beloved Son. And the Spirit, in the form of a dove, confirmed the truth of His word. O Christ our God, Who didst appear and enlighten the world, glory to You. 
I spent Theophany wrestling the computer finances. I finally got NIPSCO to accept my payment - they wouldn't let me pay last night. I'm off the budget plan, and December came in under what the budget had been. If a usually-expensive month like that is under, I should do well the rest of the year. And it makes sense, because it's just me living here now. Last week I cut my cell phone minutes, saving $20 a month. I was using the minutes straightening out problems, mostly date-of-death problems, with the hospital bills. I believe all but one of those is settled, and that one will be straightened out by mail.
 
And I'll make you an offer you can't refuse. (in my best Mae West voice) "Hey there, big boy, want to have some fun? Want to come do something with me, like maybe . . . my taxes?" I hear you laughing, you know. You loved doing taxes more than anything else on earth. I just need some simple pointers about what is and isn't deductible, and what line the deduction is on. I can't find anything on the web that's simple enough. The better shape I can get the reports into before this goes to Michael, the better. I need just a little tiny bit of your tax knowledge - pretty please? I figured out the report software today, so between us we can knock it out in a couple of hours. Then you can play with the cat and I promise we'll eat at the Italian place of your choice.
 
Can't take me up on it? Well, that's okay. The offer is always open, even if there aren't any taxes to do. You know where the key is, so stop in any time. Your little family misses you. And if word gets out that you're here, we'll be mobbed. So many people miss you so much. The bank, the post office, the church, the Cancer Center, and the IRS miss you - if that's not a testimonial, I don't know what is.
 
We're all off to bed. I have to be up early to leave for Indy between 10 and 11. I mapped everthing and found the best route from the hotel in to the med center. It looks like the weather will cooperate. I'll write you from Indy tomorrow - it will feel familiar. My memories of Indy are very sweet.
 
Love you with all my heart,
Joan.
 


Saturday, January 5, 2013

Michael & Fiona, and That Wretched Rose

Dear John,
 
Have I ever told you that I love you, adore you, and worship the ground you walk on? I just want to be sure you know that.
 
Right now I have a particular intolerance for romantic movies. And that's understandable. But you know I never did care much for them. I never cared for romance in any form, never trusted it - it can be a tool for manipulation. And I never wanted the "romantic dream vacation" - just being with you in the regular world was all I wanted.
 
I remember when you discovered my dislike of romantic gestures. Remember that weekend? We were in college, were dating, and you had something special - I have no idea what - that you were going to over a weekend. I hated going a whole weekend without seeing you, but made plans with the girls in the dorm and was having a good time. Then I got a call from the desk that there was something delivered for me. I got down there, and found that you'd dropped off a rose for me and left. And I could have killed you. You had an hour off, and instead of coming by and talking, you spent it going to a florist, buying a rose, and dropping it off. Way to ruin my weekend.
 
I had it out with you the next night. That's when you realized that it was you I loved, not love itself, or romance, or grand gestures. Spending half and hour with you, hearing about how your whatever-it-was was going, would have been great. Getting a rose dropped off nearly got you killed. We talked it out until you understood. You had this idea - I guess based on television and movies, because it had nothing to do with any of the women in your family - that women liked romance. And that's what you tried to give me. I remember you said that you'd have liked to just come by and talk for a few minutes, too.
 
So you learned that I didn't want what the stereotypes said I should, and that was a good thing. I wanted the guy that buys the Trane - I always did. I never wanted any kind of fantasy. I just wanted to spend reality with the man I loved. After all, I grew up in the 1950s - I wanted to have a little house, and cook, clean, and look after the man I loved. That's all. That's heaven on earth for me. Just a quiet, ordinary life. And we actually did that on occasion! And when life was unquiet, all I wanted was to get through it with you. We did that on occasion, too, didn't we? We did have some unquiet times. But nothing was unbearable if we were together.
 
And that's the gift of your early cancer - we never had the luxury of taking each other for granted. We cherished every day. We'd go to bed every single night and you'd fall asleep before I did (since your default position is asleep and mine is awake), and I'd lie there and listen to you breathe, and wonder how long I would have you. That's not particularly comfortable, but I highly recommend it. It's good for a marriage. And ours is very good.
 
The only romance I can tolerate right now.
That's all - I've just been thinking about that weekend a lot lately, while I've been avoiding romantic movies and television like the plague. The only romance I watch is on Burn Notice, and even you enjoyed watching Michael and Fiona. She's definitely your kind of woman.
 
And I'm glad I'm your type. You said when you were 19 that you wanted an independent, strong-minded, smart-mouthed woman. And that's what you got. And that's what you still have. And I'm glad that, after all these years, that's still what you wanted, and you still valued that in me. And as I may have said before, I love you, adore you, and worship the ground you walk on.
 
Sleep well tonight,
Joan.