The Dumb Things People Say…

The dumb things people say, right? Our words can be healing or hurtful. Usually I find it’s the latter. But I try not to be bitter or judgmental about it because I don’t think most of us mean to be unkind. I really don’t. Having suffered through some pretty stupid and painful remarks (especially as a widow), and reflecting on why in the hell someone would say some of the things they’ve said, I find it hard to believe that the majority of those people meant to hurt me in any way. (AND, I have to acknowledge that I have said my share of hurtful things to others, too!)

Most of us aren’t mean people, we just lack an adequate verbal filtration system. We speak before we think.

My verbal filtration system has gotten a little rickety and rusty, so I’ve been practicing the art of quiet presence. I don’t want to say anything hurtful and stupid. Most people are struggling hard enough to get through the day as it is. Hurtful and stupid tend to coexist, have you noticed that? Hurtful and stupid are the Cinderella sisters of conversation. They’re the girls no one really wants to take to the ball and yet they arrive at the party anyway, wearing some garish get-up, perfume that smells a lot like vodka, and too much lipstick and mascara.

I’ve been practicing this art of quiet presence to steel myself against saying anything I haven’t thought through. I want to develop a strong verbal filtration system because I want to be the kind person in the room.

This new verbal filtration system will sift through my swirling, chaotic thoughts and basically shut me up before I speak. I’m designing it to filter out stupid, hurtful, jealous, and meaningless remarks. For example: Let’s say I’m at a party and I see a friend eating her 3rd helping of baked spaghetti. As she giggles and says, “I know I shouldn’t…,” I start thinking about how heavy she’s gotten and how bad all that trans-fat is for her heart, especially at her age and the sentence that forms is, “Whoa! Now that you are post-menopausal, have you thought about going on a watermelon diet?” But the filter spots STUPID, HURTFUL JEALOUS AND MEANINGLESS words and throws the whole sentence out! It freezes me in my tracks so I can think of something else to say, in a moment of quiet presence. This moment of sacred silence gives me the opportunity to think of something helpful and then say the only thing that will help my dear friend her put her fork down: “Do you have any idea how beautiful you are?” (ALL of us have beauty, so it’s not a little white lie!)

Which one of us doesn’t want to hear that we are loved, that we are beautiful, that we matter? When we filter our thoughts before we speak, our tendency is to speak from love, which gives us the power to truly help another person.

This personal experiment has worked so well that I’m totally fired up! I’m going to keep working on my new filtration system. I’m going to beef it up and polish it often. There is enough meanness in the world right now and as a person of free will, I choose not to be a part of that.

I don’t want to be a part of the selective truth, sexist, naked meanness “free speech” program currently in vogue. I want no part of it! (Seriously, has hearing nasty stuff about other people helped you in any way?)

With the art of quiet presence, filtering my thoughts before I speak, I choose to say loving words that bring peace and truth into every encounter I have. Join me, and let’s start a revolution!

A boutique trip to remember

Boutique experiences abound in tourist locations. For instance, my little mountain town has an organic beeswax candle shop, a visual artists’ collective and a dog-biscuit bakery. But this week I’ve been at a North Carolina coastal beach town, soaking up the sun and kayaking in the tidal creeks. I bought a cool pair of silky gaucho pants at one of the tourist shops and shrimp from the dockside vendor. I was so enjoying playing the role of “tourist”. And then it happened. I was eating a fat tomato sandwich when my tongue felt something hard (which obviously wasn’t bread or a fat tomato). I fetched it out of my mouth and realized it was a tooth. (Well, technically, only part of a tooth). Shit.

Great– just great. As I pulled my jaw out to examine the back tooth, I watched my short romantic vacation go to hell in a handcart. It was bad. I could see exposed tooth where the filling fell out, ugh! I knew I would need a crown so I called my dentist at home. He gave me the name of someone in the area and the realtor gave my sweetie the name of his dentist. Then the stars aligned: it was the same person. Even better, this dentist was a she.

Another miracle occurred: I got an appointment the next day. When we pulled up it was clear that this was not your ordinary dental office. The beach-side deck with rocking chairs and huge, bleached-wood frame that held a floor-to-ceiling exotic plant display was just the beginning. Inside, the receptionist greeted me by name and took me on a “tour” of the facility. The décor was all slate and silvery tones with strategically placed weathered-wood objects of art. The bathroom had a faux (I hope) tortoiseshell sink and real hand towels. It looked more like a page from House Beautiful than a dental office. Andy asked our tour guide for an appetizer and cocktail while he waited for me, and she smiled sweetly and showed him the fresh pineapple water and Keurig coffee station. As they led me to an exam room he whispered, “I hope you can afford this, honey”. It was clear that this was a boutique dental salon.

As I waited in the chair with my lavender-scented, heated neck pillow, I heard the click of tiny pumps on the granite floor. A four-foot, nine-inch beauty in a white jacket that said, “DDS” waltzed in. She was beautiful: long brunette hair, a perfect heart-shaped face and tiny hands. (I like a dentist with tiny hands. If you can avoid it, why have hands the size of a meatloaf in your mouth?) After the most gentle exam I’ve EVER had, she confirmed my self-diagnosis: I had broken a tooth and would need a crown.

She displayed a dazzling smile and said, “We can do those in one day, but it’s a long appointment. It takes about 3 hours.” Wow. It takes 2-3 weeks at home, and my dentist has hands the size of a meatloaf! She asked how long I was in town and when I told her just a few days she made the cutest frown I’ve ever seen. “Hmmm. I’m not sure we can do that. Let me see what we can work out.” As she spoke to me, the assistant pushed the button on her headset and queried the receptionist. They could do it the next day.

We’re not in Kansas anymore, girlfriend! Her tiny hands were gentle and meticulous. The shots hurt, but thanks to her tiny hands, I could actually open my mouth the next day. My crown was custom-made without an impression. A computerized cartography system created a map of the landscape of my mouth. It was surreal. My perfectly created, baked porcelain crown is the exact color of the surrounding teeth. It was ready in just under five hours instead of three, but it was done in a day. I was almost delirious from pineapple water and Lidocaine.

So now I’m almost back to normal and enjoying the rest of my little vacation. If you find yourself on Topsail and you’ve got an extra $1,500 lying around, you should check it out!

 

 

Oh Lordy! Father’s Day is Coming!

While the rest of the world is hosting bar-b-ques and handing out new pink golf shirts, our Father’s Days are a little different, wouldn’t you agree?

I don’t even go near the card section of the grocery store or drug store from Mother’s Day to June 20th. And forget the mall and department stores. They have those 20 foot-high Dads smiling from everywhere and that overly-made-up cosmetic representative squirts “OdeDuFather” on you when you try to get on the escalator to buy underwear. I wouldn’t go near a mall until the Sunday AFTER Father’s Day just to make sure my son wouldn’t get ambushed by grief, again.

I want to share this “grief container” idea with you. It got me through an early Father’s Day and helped me process some grief at the same time:

I made my husband a Father’s Day card, just like our son did in 1st grade. (I upgraded from crayons to oil pastels but you get my drift…) Then I wrote Perrin a letter on the inside. I told him all the things our son had accomplished since he died and included the stuff I knew he’d be extra proud of.  Then I signed it: I love you and miss you. I read it out loud and then burned it. (This is an ancient practice and very effective!)

Of course I cried all the way through. (Crying is a good thing when it’s a conscious release.)  I gave myself permission to grill and eat bratwurst hotdogs that day with our son, because they both loved those so much.  I gave him space to grieve, too. I asked him what he thought his Dad would be proud of… And then we toasted his Dad with root-beer floats.

Life is never really a perfect picture. So, give your life permission to be what it is. It’s so much easier that way.

The Widow’s Recovery System is here to help you move forward. Let’s talk soon.

PS Don’t keep all the good stuff to yourself! Share this with another widow.

 

Time to Fly

Life continues on for this widowed mom. Time moves at an ever more rapid pace and often I wonder where the heck it goes!

A few years ago, my son’s AIG teacher gave me a lovely hand-painted gourd birdhouse for Christmas. It has hung from an iron shepherd’s hook near my front door for several years, lovely but empty. This year, just as my son arrived home from college, a spunky Carolina wren discovered it. Flittering in and out, she investigated the bird house and tested the entrance angles from every nearby bush. Then she and her spry little mate began lining the gourd with moss and leaves. While the outside of the birdhouse is quite beautiful, the home the tiny birds built on the inside together is a work of art. They built their babies a bed of soft green moss cradled by sticks and leaves.

Tirelessly, they worked dawn ‘til dusk on that nest, feeding on the mealworms in the tray feeder before and after their workday. When the weeks of endless rain fell in May I hardly saw them, and they were never together. I feared the worst. But then one afternoon as my son passed by the gourd he heard the tiniest voices imaginable from within the gourd. Babies! Knowing I would want to see them, too, he fetched me. When I peered in, the momma reared up and pointed her formidable beak at me. The days passed and the babies grew. Occasionally, when they were alone in the nest they would squeak with frantic cries and open their tiny mouths in unison to beg from me when I passed by. Day by day they grew and grew—they went from bald babies the size of marbles to fuzzy golf-ball size fledglings and every night, as darkness fell, they would sing the sweetest high-pitched sleepy songs to their mother as she returned to the nest and laid her soft blanket of feathers round them. This touched my heart deeply because my son used to do the same thing when the day closed in on him and I held him in the rocking chair.

And then they disappeared. I had seen a hawk circling my yard, had it taken the babies? A neighbor reported cowbirds had arrived in town—a known nest predator. But then four wrens arrived at the feeder. Two of them almost crashed into the window and the fifth sat in a tree flapping its wings and squawking. The parents flew them around the bushes in the side yard. Bush to feeder, bush to bush, bush to birdbath, back to the feeder. For the first few days, their flight training was a comedy of errors. But they survived and now, they are confident young birds starting to sport their mating feathers (Not unlike my son actually).

Those parents worked themselves ragged. Haven’t you done the same? (I know I have.) Parenting is hard enough with two, but when one parent dies and the other is forced to go solo, it’s really tough. While most of our houses look good from the outside, the real beauty of home is the world we’ve created INSIDE. It’s our selfless love that has made our houses places of safety. It’s the soft nests we’ve made for them, our dedication to their well-being, and the life we have modeled for them as the years poured out, that is nothing short of true art.

Just like the baby wrens from the gourd, my baby is flying now, too, and with each flap of his wings, I find my tired heart both celebrating and mourning a little. The mother in me marvels at how quickly my baby became a toddler, then student, Eagle scout and now… a man.

I know it’s time for him to fly! The mother in me is happy for him and proud that he has such strong wings. But I admit that as I watched that wren cleaning and relining her nest today I thought, “Thank God I’m too old to breed again!”

 

Time to Let Go?

Letting go is hard to do, just ask anyone who has moved (or even cleaned a closet).  Our stuff holds memories. My memories tend to fall into two categories: the ones I never want to forget and the ones I wish I could forget.

I’m not alone in that regard. One of the women I’ll be working with in the next Widow’s Recovery System program is in the process of selling the home she shared with her husband and children. She said to me the other day, “I know it’s just a house and it’s just stuff but I didn’t think it would be so hard! Why is it so hard?!”

Let’s be real here. A lot of our stuff has meaning. So of course letting go of our stuff when we need to relocate or downsize is hard. Packing is the easy part. Revisiting the memories those objects hold is the hard, joyous, painful, tearful, and even infuriating part. By the time you reach a, uh, certain age, you realize that life is always asking you to let go of something (Or worse yet, as we all have, someone).

Between the ages of 21 and 24, I made two cross-county, coast-to-coast moves and each move required that I let go of anything that wouldn’t fit into a shipping trunk. I still have that trunk (of course). It sits in the attic, filled with memorabilia from my acting career and the improvisational comedy company I founded when I was a pissed-off, disillusioned 27-year-old who weighed 105 pounds. But I digress.

On my last move (which only took 9 hours by moving van, which explains why the trunk is still here), I left behind an exquisite example of the finest in hand-painted British bone china, a large antique water pitcher that I kept carefully turned to one side due to the sizeable hole my very first cat Twinky put in it when he knocked it off the mantle for one of those reasons only cats understand (You probably remember Twinky as the author of a 12-step, self-help book for cats entitled “How to Own a Human.”).

The pitcher went into my “thrift store” pile because it was what organizational specialist Peter Walsh calls a malignant item. When I lifted it from the mantle and saw the hold in its side, memories flooded back. Memories of my first mother-in-law, who gave it to me as a “welcome-to-the-family” gift; the painful divorce that followed 7 years later when I realized I had married a serial-adulterer; and the insidious death Twinky suffered from a brain tumor. He was the only continuity in my life for almost a decade and his loss was as devastating as my divorce.

In his book, “Let It Go: Downsizing Your Way to a Richer, Happier Life” Peter Walsh says that while some things are easy to let go of (that old coffeepot without a cord and the 3 legged couch), others are “Memory Items.” He suggests that as you sort and pack for the next adventure in your life it’s best to divide memory items into these four categories: The Treasures, Trinkets, Forgotten and Malignant.

His sorting system is really helpful because it helps you think your way through the sorting. Walsh says treasures are those truly irreplaceable items that usually represent 5% or less of the objects you own. These are things like your mother’s wedding ring or the childhood teddy bear that still shares your pillow. Trinkets on the other hand are things you collected on family trips or vacations, like that key-chain from Yellowstone or the shot-glass from the casino. Forgotten items are things that have attached themselves to your life but you don’t remember how or why. If you don’t remember why now, you probably won’t remember next year either, so they go in the trash or donate pile. And that brings us to the malignant items. These are things (like my gorgeous bone china pitcher) that remind you of dark or painful moments. If you’re like me, you probably don’t need any more dark and painful moments to complete your life so just GET RID OF THEM no matter how “valuable” they are. In fact, if they’re valuable, sell them so they can help fund your new adventures!

The good news about letting go of your “stuff” is that it is very freeing! Yes, it’s a pain to sort through our things and make piles and then take those piles to the trash or the charity resale shop but in the end, it’s worth it. After you let go of all the stuff you really don’t need or want anymore, your life can move into new spaces much more easily. Plus, the memories you really want to keep are safe and sound, deep inside your heart!

 

 

 

Ever Feel Overwhelmed?

Have you ever had one of those days when you suddenly realize the safety-margins of your life are disappearing into a tangle of conflicting commitments or, worse yet, hiding out under piles of silent dust bunnies?

Well if you have, welcome to my day. As I write this, I am glancing at my hands and hoping I don’t have poison ivy. (Praying, actually, because I’m REALLY allergic to that stuff.) I have been working on the road most of this year and I have fallen way behind in my real life. (By real life, I mean the one that’s always lurking in the dark corners of the laundry room, tool shed or yard.)

The day started innocuously enough. I decided to have coffee on the deck. The birds were singing from every tree, a cool breeze was blowing, and I was having a perfect morning UNTIL I noticed that the fountain in my goldfish pond wasn’t working. So I took my coffee to the pond to investigate. I fed the fish and tried to decide if I wanted to tackle the pump. But while I was watching the goldfish feed with a spring frenzy I couldn’t help but notice the wild clematis, Virginia creeper, knee-high oak seedlings, AND poison ivy spilling from every corner of the day lily beds that surround the pond. Oh, and the pump still wasn’t working. It apparently doesn’t respond to the “Mommy Evil Eye.” Arrgh!

I tried to do meditative breaths and focus on the delightful little fish forms in front of me but I couldn’t! Because you see, just yesterday I had a similar realization while catching up on six weeks worth of journaling! Again, I have been trapped by that weird womanly need to be everything to everybody. You’ve been there, you know how this works: You do all the stuff you think you need to do for everyone else only to watch your personal life and goals disappear under dust bunnies and vines. Enough!

I stomped into the house and put on my armor: long-sleeved bug shirt (check), long pants (check), sunscreen (double-check), straw hat (check), and “Steel Lady” (It’s a long story.) yard gloves and got my rake, shears, and wheelbarrow from the shed, which I now know is also covered in vines. With a fury not seen since I fixed my vacuum cleaner, I pulled every last vine out from those lily beds, cleaned the filthy filter for the pond, restarted the pump, and made a brush pile five feet high at the curb.

Sweaty, dirty, wet and pretty proud of myself, I came back in the house, pulled the screen door behind me, took a deep breath and then… saw dust bunnies piled against the baseboard as far as the eye can see. Yes, it’s going to be one of THOSE days around here. So, how are you?

Happy Mother’s Day SuperMom!

Mother’s Day is right around the corner! You’re ready for your kids to bring you breakfast in bed. You’re pumped up! You are ready to be celebrated for a change, have someone else do the heavy lifting for a day. You’re longing for a rose on the breakfast tray, two blueberry pancakes with extra syrup, a slice of thick bacon, a rich cup of French roast coffee and a homemade card that says “I Love You Mom!” atop a flowered cloth napkin.

 

Haha! Dream on!

Click here to see a SuperMom’s Mother’s Day!

Beauty Rises from the Dark Places

On a beautiful spring day I found myself on a wildflower hike. It was one of those days when the temperature is like that last bed in the Goldilocks story: just right. It had rained earlier in the week and there was a cool, lingering dampness in the woods. A breeze teased my nose with the sweet scent of flowering locust trees.

I made my way along a narrow footpath that followed a creek as it rose up the mountain and suddenly there were flocks of dwarf iris tucked into every corner. Deep green leaf blades rose from the dank ground and the still-wet leaf mulch of winter formed the perfect backdrop for their shockingly purple blooms. The iris were the opening act for a true treasure: a showy orchis. A shy mountain native, its vibrant fuchsia blooms rose to meet the breeze from long, slender stems. What a privilege it was to see one. At the top of the mountain the soil turned loamy and pale pink shell azalea and mountain laurel bloomed on the rocky ridge.

I was lucky my rare day off fell into the wildflowers’ tiny crack of time. They arrive in between the last freeze and the greening of the forest canopy. In the life of a wildflower, timing is everything. They are literally there one day and gone the next. Spring is their midwife and they bloom from the dankest, most rotten soil on the mountain. They lift themselves from pools of melted snow and spring rain into shafts of sunlight that will soon disappear. They bloom from corners where the wild winds of winter blew the leaves of fall against ancient trunks and drink deeply of melting snow and spring rains. Wildflowers bloom when and where they can in the most unexpected of places.

Our moist, dark places give birth to beautiful things, too. All new life requires rich nutrients. You can’t grow a healthy plant from thin, exhausted soil. So, I think it’s kind of ridiculous that our society goes to such lengths to avoid hard times, grief and sorrow, skirt around it or pretend it doesn’t exist. It’s ridiculous because every trial we undergo, every grief we experience, every hardship we endure, and every tear we shed is a nutrient for new life. It’s not easy to sit with these dark things of life (I’ve done my share of sitting with dark stuff and watering it with tears.), but it’s just as important as the happy, bright times because when shafts of light finally pour down into the dark, moist, nutrient rich places of our souls, wildly beautiful things are born!

Life may seem dark now, but believe in nature’s promise – from moist, dark places comes new life!

Girls Fix Stuff

It all started when I invited some people over to my house for a meal. I’d been on the road for several weeks, eating food I really shouldn’t eat unless I want to weigh 600+ pounds. I’d been sleeping in hotels and bumping into furniture in the dark every night trying to find the bathroom (Why can’t OHSA step in and mandate that all hotel rooms have the bathroom in the same place? Seriously, how hard is that?). Anyway, I needed to nest, rest and bake something. Now that probably sounds crazy, but baking is very restorative for me, it’s one of my favorite ways to nurture myself. I get to eat a homemade food, plumped up with high-quality fat (like European butter, for instance), and my house smells fabulous!

I baked a quiche and cookies and then about a half-hour before people were to show up, I took in the state of my house and about fainted. My den was covered in dog hair. When I say covered, I literally mean covered. It was ankle deep in dog hair. Spring had sprung while I was away and the yearly shedding had begun.

So, I grabbed the vacuum cleaner and started vacuuming. My part Jack Russell, part Basenji (Mr. Pip – a.k.a. world’s most adorable dog) had busied himself during my absence with chewing up a stick (Which I pray isn’t from a piece of furniture like it was the last time.) and he’d strewn toothpick size pieces of it all over the room. By the time I got to the kitchen, the vacuum was overheating and then it growled at me and just ceased to function. I hadn’t even made it to living room, so I did what our elementary school janitor did, I pushed all the fur and dust bunnies into the corners of the room with a dust mop and left them there.

I really didn’t think anyone would notice. My guests arrived and commented on how wonderful the house smelled. I thought no one had noticed until one of my girlfriends (who is also a widow) said, “Why are there dust bunnies in the corner? Did you break your vacuum cleaner?” Busted!

Now, as a Mom, I’m used to everything being my fault, so no worries there. Never mind that the #*@& vacuum cleaner fell apart 2 days after the warranty expired or that most manufacturers make products under a “planned obsolescence” program these days (This is a huge pet peeve of mine but I won’t get into that now). Of course it was my fault. I mean, I know that and in fact, I’d already accepted that. But I couldn’t accept buying a new vacuum cleaner. I’d had a lot of big expenses that month and I just couldn’t afford a new one, not just yet…it wasn’t in the budget.

So I asked my friend Andy to look at it. Now Andy is a very practical, handy kind of guy and he looked that thing over top to bottom. He used a screwdriver and everything. No duct tape was involved, but tools were. (I learned a long time ago that half of fixing anything the way a man does is to: 1. Cuss it out and 2. Put duct tape on it.) A few minor issues were solved but the cleaner was still overheating within seconds of being turned on. Additionally, it was now emitting a dark aroma that smelled a bit like dead possum, so I decided not to risk a house fire and I took it out to the trash.

Trash day came and I pulled my bins to the street. Then I went back for the vacuum. As I was walking to the curb, a light shone through the clear tube at the bottom that connected the beater brushes to the debris container. (It would be more accurate to say that it shone through the sticks and hair that were clogging the once clear tube.) and in an “a-ha!” moment I spun on my heels and took it back inside. I put the vacuum on the floor and looked at how it went together. Hmmm. I cussed it out. (This is mandatory, otherwise said tool or equipment KNOWS you are a girl and refuses to cooperate.) When I determined that I needed a Philip’s head (I realize I learned a lot watching Perrin fix things…), I got the little black bag that held the tiny screwdrivers he used on his cameras and lenses out and then I put a roll of duct tape next to the vacuum cleaner, just to scare it. I unscrewed that tube, pulled Mr. Pip’s toothpicks out of there, along with about 2 cups of his hair, screwed that sucker back onto the vacuum and it works like a champ. And I have to tell you, I’m feeling pretty dang proud of myself.

But the moral of this story is that we can all do things we think we can’t do with a little help from our stored memories and a roll of duct tape.

Waiting for Easter

The day my husband died, I gazed out the picture window in his hospice room and the lone tree in the labyrinth arched longingly toward the heavens, naked, before its creator. Gone were the blossoms and seed pods of spring. Gone were the full leaves blown about by the storms of summer, gone was the golden dress it wore when the harvest moon hosted her last ball. The dry leaves were snuggled up against its trunk like a blanket. Creation was waiting for winter. Inside that hospice hospital lay the mirror images of that tree. The once mischievous children who played in the mud on spring days, had become brides and grooms in summer, then moms and dads in autumn and, for the lucky ones, grandmas and grandpas. Now, they lay stripped of their cars and jobs and homes and roles and lifestyles. Now they lay silent, under blankets, bodies arched longingly toward the heavens, souls standing naked before their creator.

 

When they said my husband could die anytime, that the battle he’d fought so bravely was over, I’d gone to the mortuary. Thank goodness we’d discussed death and dying and burial and funerals on one of those long car trips that are so good for thinking and talking. My husband loved the outdoors. He was happiest in nature. He ran, he cycled, he swam, he camped. If you could do it outdoors, he did it. He wanted to enter the earth as dust, he said that day as we drove a mountain road, and he quoted that scripture passage from Genesis. The one where God kicked Adam out of Eden. From dust you came and to dust you shall return. Thank goodness, we’d had that conversation and I knew what he wanted. He wanted to be cremated and buried in the family plot, in South Carolina, next to his father and then have a big celebration of his life at our church. He was a man of faith, he believed in life after death.

 

A gaunt, solicitous young man greeted me at the crematorium. He was tall with pasty white skin and bulging eyes and a shaved head as bald as a cue ball. He was young but already very sanctimonious. He ushered me into a small office, with a metal desk and two pale green office chairs. He took out a long, legal sized form, in triplicate (one for me, one for him and one for the government) and murmured to me in hushed tones. “Now then, what kind of casket did you have in mind for your beloved?”

 

I could hear the sales pitch coming like a freight train in the dark and I wasn’t in the mood so I interrupted and said, “Actually I don’t need a casket – my husband wants to be cremated. All I need from you is the cremation and an urn.”

 

He checked the box that said, “Cremation,” and patted my hand. And then he put his pen down and he told me the sweetest story about how he’d been a paramedic in the military but given that up so he could do what he always wanted to do: embalm people. And then he assured me that I would want my husband prepared before the cremation so everyone could view his body and remember him the way he was, before he died. And he checked the box next to make up and hair styling.

 

Now my husband was born and reared in Alabama – roll Tide! His idea of gun control was not having a loaded one on my lap in the car. He was an Eagle Scout, an athlete and man’s man, okay? I knew, I knew my husband wouldn’t want some pasty faced man fluffing his hair and putting pancake makeup and lipstick on him so I grabbed the pen and scratched that out.

At which point, we proceeded to the display room to look at urns. This tour convinced me that the old adage is true: one man’s junk really is another man’s treasure. There was a cheap brass urn that I’m pretty sure was once a tobacco spittoon. There was an urn with a deer head and pine trees but I decided against that one because I didn’t think he’d want to be buried in camo. We walked under the wood cut sign that said, “Yea tho I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…” And I found my mind leaping into the scripture for safety. “Lo, thou art with me, they rod and they staff, they comfort me.” And then I saw a pale orange and yellow salt crystal urn. It looked just like the lamp my husband bought me at a craft fair for my birthday the year before. That lamp sits next to my computer and when I turn it on, the glow through the crystal is so warm and lovely. I picked it up and he said, “Now that is not an urn for a woman of your standing, for a Christian woman like yourself. That one is just salt and it will dissolve and spill your beloveds cremains right into the ground.”

Dust to dust, ashes to ashes. “From dust you came,” the Lord God said to Adam, “and to dust you shall return.” And I held onto that urn with all my heart and said “I’ll take it.” And wrote the man a check.

My husband died before the day was out, and we buried him in South Carolina, in the red clay in the graveyard that sits next to the church his family founded before the civil war. A heavy frost sat on the ground and everything was gray. The only color was a bright red cardinal that flew to a bare branch near the open grave and sang to us. I swear to you it said, “believe, believe, believe.” I took the bag of tulips I’d bought for the yard and pushed them into the clay on top of the urn. Planted them in the shape of a heart, squeezing every last one in, and then I laid his ring in the middle. His siblings took turns shoveling the Carolina clay into the grave, we ate a meal at the farmhouse together, we had a celebration of his life and then…

Winter came… with all its “firsts.” My first wedding anniversary without him, our first Christmas without him, my son’s first birthday without him. The waves of grief came one after the other and like storm surge pulling the sand from a beach, there was a little less of us left each time the waves came.

But finally, spring came, My son and I decided to drive to the farm in S. C. just get out of the house for the weekend. And as the highway unfolded before us, the trees arched longingly toward the pale blue heavens, their graceful arms now covered in flowers and seed pods. The green of the wild grass along the road was so bright our eyes could barely take it in. We stopped at the church to visit the grave. Daffodils nodded from their neat lines along the walkway. Soft moss was growing into the cracks around the stone wall and the lusty mating songs of the birds burst in the air. Creation was birthing itself again.

We opened the wrought iron gate to the graveyard and what we saw there, took our breath away. A heart of tulips blooming on his grave. Red ones, pink ones, white ones, yellow ones, orange ones, encircling each other, entwining their leaves one to the other, like a family standing over him in prayer. And the cardinal flew to the branch now covered with fresh new leaves and sang “believe believe believe!”