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Getting Reaquainted

This may be typical of the newly widowed, but I can only speak for myself, since this is new territory for me. Not sure if there are any hard and fast rules, or what is considered "normal" behavior. For me, retreating into myself, avoiding things that need attention and becoming a social recluse seem the norm for me. And lots of thinking.....thinking about the past, the future, the what-if, the what-next, but not a lot about the now. It is almost as if I am passing through time in a bubble that precedes me with the past and follows me with the future and isolates me from the present. Yes, I meant that, it is not backwards.

Of the huge amount of thinking I have done over the past months, there have been those lingering projects that were discussed at length before Wade's passing that we never got finished. Like the remodeling the laundry room. We both hated it, it was not truly functional since we had upgraded our washer and dryer to the front load models. The room is a somewhat narrow galley-style area that would be best served by rotating the washer/dryer 90 degrees to face the door. In its present configuration, it was an obstacle course and gave me one more reason to avoid another chore (laundry). Well, after thinking about it for some time, I decided to get reaquainted with some old friends and tackle the beast.

Meet my old friends Mr. Wonderbar and Mr. Hammer. I specifically brought them into the discussion because they are trusted old friends and we have worked well together in the past. They were really Wade's friends, but over the years, we became quite close as well. We surveyed the area and decided the best start was to remove the closet door in the laundry room, since it would be blocked with the proposed new configuration. And we got that job done in no time and were able to salvage all of the door framing and trim.

Wonderbar and Hammer needed some help with the next part, which was taking out the sheetrock between the laundry room closet and the coat closet on the other side of the wall. Time to bring in the Box Cutter. Me and Box Cutter have stayed close and interacted frequently for many, many years. BC has always been there when I needed help and has never failed me. So the four of us make quick work of the demolition, but soon realize we need even more help. As we are peeling back the old sheetrock, an adversary of mine, Ms. Electricity makes an unwanted appearance. As usual, she has hindered my progress by being somewhere she is not wanted, and knows how I despise her. She was a friend to Wade, because he understood her complexities and what it took to excite her and conversely, tame her. I've never been one to understand the firey nature of women and still have no desire to grapple with highly charged personalities. So I phoned a friend. Bob.

Bob and his wife are friends from the neighborhood who we met through a sign posting about lost dog. They have been so wonderful to me since Wade's passing and it helps that Bob is a general contractor. So I pay Bob to come deal with the wild woman in my closet. Money well spent, I tell you. She is now hidden out of sight, safely tucked behind the ceiling and wall where she belongs.

Back to Mr. Wonderbar and Mr. Hammer. We proceed to remove the wall studs that were hiding Ms. Electricity. These are needed to close in the wall where the door once stood, so we take great care to not destroy them. Mission accomplished!

I have a new friend, one that I met after Wade passed. One we both had heard about and were anxious to meet together, but it didn't happen. I know Wade would be pleased that we are now friends. Sliding Compound Miter Saw (MS for short) and I are still working to become good friends. All new friendships start this way with learning how each other think and behave in different situations. We're still in the early stages of getting to know each other, but I know we will be life long friends. Of course, I'm still having trouble really communicating my thoughts and MS responded perfectly for what I asked, but alas, I wasn't implicitly clear in my desire. So I made the cuts a little shorter than I needed, so what. MS and I were able to recover from the error nicely, and the framing was up in no time.

One of the problems with being a woman (for the most part) is that we lack physical stature and overall muscular strength to compete on equal footing with our male counterparts. This became painfully obvious as I moved to the next stage of reconstruction. Drywall, or sheetrock if you prefer, is a big, heavy opponent; one I have never before had to deal with alone. Called in some backup (my sister) and we managed to overcome this monster. And along with Mr. Tape Measure and my reliable BC, we took that baby down (or rather prepared to put that baby up)! Now I must admit that Tape Measure(TM) and I don't always see eye to eye and this time was no different. Some people are so unforgiving and require such nit-picky attention to details that I fail to mesh well with them. TM and I have that kind of relationship. But all of the drywall is now in place.

So what is left is the fine art of finishing. Me, the procrastinator, has to will myself to finish what I started. I started with the wall compound; filled in the dimples on the sheetrock, packed in the gaps. Now I need to do the tape and I'm really not looking forward to it. But it is necessary because I have one of my best friends in the entire world waiting to come help me. That would be Ms. Paintbrush. Yes, we love working together, we have spent many, many hours creating our own drama in some cases, or managing to make a specific space cool and relaxing. I find my time painting to be very calming and when I am done, I can marvel at the visible result of my hard work.

And I will have my friends, both new and old, to thank for helping to make a change in my life.

What's After Death?

Have you ever asked someone where they would like to spend eternity? You know, it's one of those difficult questions to ask and part of those important discussions everyone should have with family and close friends. It's important; really important. And sometimes the topic surfaces during casual conversation.

About a week before Wade died, we were sitting around discussing with my sister (who lives with us) what she wanted us to do for her when she passed away. It was a somewhat lighthearted discussion which stemmed from her telling of an ailment she had been ignoring. We were kidding around (sort of) and asked her the question. Which led us all to discuss our own thoughts on the subject.

Wade was very much a simple man. Not in a bad way by any stretch, just that he wasn't much for fanfare or wanting unnecessary effort or expense on things. When we got married, neither of us could fathom why anyone would go to such great expense on a wedding when that money could be spent on more practical and useful things, like a down payment on a home, or an upgraded car. For us both, it wasn't the event that mattered as much as it was the ceremony and public pronouncement of our love for each other. We created our own hand-made invitations, the dress code was casual/country, the vows were exchanged at our home followed by the reception at our home, and we catered the meal (well, we ordered the BBQ). And it was an almost perfect day. Almost, because my sister (my maid of honor) and her two children were in a horrible car accident on the way to the wedding requiring the girls to be Care-Flighted to the Children's Hospital over 50 miles away. Our wedding night was spent traveling between two different hospitals checking on our loved ones.

When my mother died five years ago, she had said she wanted to have her body donated to science and had all of the paperwork in place. She clearly knew what she wanted and had shared that with me. However, that was not how it played out, and not from anything I did or did not do to honor her wishes. The circumstances of her death prevented that from happening. And she has sat on my bookshelf in one of two matched (pricey) urns she had purchased herself. I am seriously contemplating giving her to a local artist who creates paintings from ashes. He says every person generates their own color. I'm curious what color she is.

So when the discussion of what to do came up just days before Wade's passing, I knew what he wanted. And I was OK with it. And it was easier to make decisions at the time, because we had just talked about it. Well, it's never easy, but the decisions had to be made, and his wishes were still so clear in my mind. And yet, I am having trouble following through. I am tortured by what he wanted, what his faith dictates and what his mother desires. And the overriding voice I hear is his, telling me above all else to take care of his mother. So he sits on the mantle waiting; waiting for me to make a decision.

His brother was here the other day and said it was a little unnerving to see the wooden box still poised over the fireplace. Not creepy, but rather an obvious in-your-face reminder. I wonder now if his mother and sister had the same feeling when they were here for Thanksgiving? I didn't ask and they didn't comment.

His mother and I visited a cemetery near her, and it was all I could do to not cry. Well, I did cry, but I wanted to scream. Looking out at all of the plots reminded me so much of what he didn't like. He loved space and wasn't much for the close proximity of traditional neighborhoods. And here we were, looking at the after-life equivalent of what he detested. So I brought him home with me until we can find something more suitable.

I am coming to terms with the religious aspect (Catholic) of disposition of his cremains. "The only constant is change itself" is how I am choosing to interpret the church's position, with further justification around the fact he underwent an autopsy and there was bone and tissue donations, of which the church does approve. Conflict and the church....go figure.

He would not be pleased that so much energy and angst exists on this decision. For now I am being selfish, keeping him all to myself.

Truck Stop Treasures

My dear, sweet husband had the kindest heart of anyone I have ever known. If you needed it and he had it, you were certainly welcome to it. Once, I was a blindly trusting person as well, but have seen so many scams that I have become jaded. But not him. If someone approached him with a story about a hardship and asked for help, he would give freely of what he had. And that is how I have become the proud owner of numerous items I lovingly refer to as 'truckstop treasures'.

W was a truck driver by profession and over his career had run as a single independent and also had run a small fleet. One of his many dreams was to own a larger fleet of trucks, but the most we ever had at one time was four. In my opinion, that was three too many. The added compliance issues, employee headaches, equipment failures, and economic pressures made it much too challenging to be either fun or profitable. In the end, he had come to the same realization as well.

Over the years, he has brought me many interesting items he has acquired throughout his travels, in addition to some crazy stories and observations. He would come home after a trip and show me a ring he had been bought from someone who needed gas money. Or the gawdy (read "pimp") watch that someone sold him from his (questionably attained) inventory. He would call me from the road and tell me about someone selling radios, or software, or in one case a computer. Now THAT was a good story! Seems this person had new (with security tape) computers for sale for $300. He was a sucker sometimes, and this was the biggest sucker purchase he ever made. He bought the box. Yeah, the box, because it was filled with nothing more than old newspapers. By the time he realized the scam, the offender was gone. I kidded him about that every time he called me about another "deal."

There was not a day that went by over the last year that he was not approached at the truck stop for money for food. The economy had gotten so bad, especially in this industry, that people were having a real hard time, including us. But that didn't stop him from handing over a pocketful of change. Or he would buy someone some food if they asked.

And his kindness extended beyond his travels. He was so supportive of the issues with my mother before she died.....much more than I wanted to be in a few instances (another long, horrible story I may never get to.) For those of you with wonderful mothers and great relationships with them, cherish them because you are lucky. When my sister was abandoned by her husband (on Christmas Eve, no less), he gladly welcomed her into our home. He gave of his time and talent to the school band program. He was always there to lend a hand.

And I loved him for all of those reasons.....and many, many more.

Tonight I went through the drawer. His drawer. The top dresser drawer where the stuff goes. You know, the stuff. Like jewelry and birthday cards and prayer cards and, well, stuff. There was a cloth bag with a draw string that looked curious. Oh yeah, forgot about that.....the rosary he held at the memorial service. How could I forget about that? A souvenir Mickey Mouse watch from Disney World that his brother gave him last year. A Swiss Army knife. Another one of those truck stop treasures (as I called them). More on that later. And of course, a stack of business cards. The usual stuff that he would accumulate throughout his travels and purchases. But there was this one card that I can't figure out. So I set it aside to deal with later, and now it is later. How peculiar. I wonder what it means?

The card is from a funeral home in Mexico, MO. We lived near St. Louis a few years back, but we have lived in Houston, TX for seven years. Normally I wouldn't think much of the card, except it has the home phone number hand written on the front of the card and the name is Connie.

Now my mind is beginning to rev up with the "what does it mean" questions and many possible answers. Here it is almost 3:30 in the morning and I will probably not get any sleep. Great.

I looked up the funeral home on Google and found this:

In 1967 Connie Pickering purchased a half-interest in the funeral home from Earl Precht. Connie, his wife Barbara, and their son David, moved into the apartment above the funeral home, and Connie took over the management of the funeral home.

OK, so I can rule out one of the questions/answers in my head. But a half dozen others are knocking around my mind and driving me crazy.

I have to explain a few things in order to put this all in perspective. My husband and I became avid fans of sailing many years ago. That was after we had been avid campers. And avid motor boaters. But there was something about sailing that touched both of our souls. We chartered a monohull out of Tortola BVI a few years back for two weeks and that pretty much sealed the deal for us. We have dreamed of living on a boat, doing some coastal sailing for a few years and then making a passage, possibly to Europe. Our house had been on the market when he died, with our plans to move to his family homestead to help with his mother and brother and in general be closer to family.

One evening, about a week before he died, he was surfing the net and found a beautiful boat for sale in the Caribbean that was perfect for us. The price was right, the deal sounded right, and the timing was right. He called his mother and asked if she would be upset if we bought the boat instead of moving home. She knew how much he wanted to do the sailboat; this was not a surprise to her. Her response to him was "do whatever makes you happy." And she genuinely meant it. She and her husband had only been retired two years when he passed away from an aortic aneurysm while they were fulfilling their dream of full time RVing. She told anyone who would listen that if there was something you wanted to do, then do it because you never know what will happen.

Then he died. A week after this conversation with his mother, he was gone. Ten days after having cataract surgery in one eye he was dead. Three days before he was to have the cataract removed from the other eye, he would never see again. I am so thankful that he had those days to see clearly. He would marvel at the clarity of his sight and the vibrant colors. He was in awe and I was thrilled for him. And I enjoyed taking care of him and having him home for those last weeks all to myself. But he died dammit!

About a month after he died, I decided to tackle cleaning and organizing the garage. He was a real man's man.....a mechanic, parts hoarder (working or not), a do-er, and a collector of tools. OK, I'll admit it, power tools were our thing. We both would get excited about buying a new tool and for my last birthday he bought me a plunge router that I have been hinting at for some time. But I digress.

Our garage was a mess. It had old, dilapidated kitchen cabinets along one wall that were only useful for stuffing things into, never to be found again. So I went to removing them, putting in something more useful and hauling two pick up truck loads of scrap metal to the recycle center. And weeding through buckets of bolts, nuts, screws, things of the I-have-no-idea-what-they-are variety, wire, wood, and coffee cans of stuff. As I was sorting through things, I happened upon a box that was taped closed and from a storage place that I later recognized as being in Missouri. It obviously had been stored in the garage since our move to Texas. As I opened it, the first thing I found was a couple of paper envelopes from the local drug store containing from our chartered sail trip to the BVI. And then there was this one picture of him sitting at our kitchen table in Missouri just looking into the camera. Not smiling, but just looking serious, studious, matter-of-fact. It was eerie seeing that photo. Anyway, the next thing under the photos was his life insurance policy. I started crying. Below that were 40 or 50 magazines from his subscriptions to various sailing magazines. And then his sailing manual. Now I'm really crying. A little more digging and I came across a book by Dave Ramsey (Financial Peace).....that's a whole other story.....and then the repair manual for his pickup truck. More magazines.....and then the kicker. At the bottom of the box, in the corner were some CDs by Manheim Steamroller. Christmas CDs. His favorite. By now I have totally lost it, I am bawling. I'm sure if the neighbors had wandered over, they would have wondered why I'm sitting in the garage crying like a baby.

The significance of the Christmas music has to do with our desire over the past seven or eight years of wanting to basically run away during Christmas and go sailing, rather than participate in the commercialization of the holiday. He would tell his mom and kids to save their money and instead of buying gifts, let's take a trip. But we never did. And now, here was this box.....this box of treasures. His stuff. The stuff that was important to him. And I'm still crying; crying at finding this treasure; crying because I am seeing this as a sign...the sign from him I have been so desperately look for and not finding. And the music on the radio suddenly changes to the theme song for Rush Limbaugh. Someone he knows I despised listening to, but he enjoyed, and he loved to torment me with whenever the opportunity presented itself. The timing was incredible. All I could do was laugh at that point.

And now I have found this business card. This card for a business over 100 miles from where we lived. With the home phone number of the funeral director written on it. What does it mean? We went camping and boating near Mexico one time. Well sort of near Mexico; I know we passed through there. But I can't remember needing the services of a funeral home during that trip. Who is this person?

I keep thinking back to the time we lived in Missouri and he got sick, so sick that I called 911. He was dizzy and vomiting and all I could think was I will never be able to get him up the stairs and into the car and drive 30 miles to the hospital if there was something terribly wrong with him. Him, the man who never got sick. But he was very sick. Something with his heart, but they could never determine exactly what was wrong. He spent four days in the hospital having all kinds of tests done and in the end it was determined that he had an episode of an irregular heartbeat but there was nothing to fix, treat, or be worried about. I wonder if I should contact them and let them know they were wrong. There was most definitely something wrong with his heart. It just quit working. One minute he was here and the next he was gone.

And I can't stop staring at this damn business card.

One down, two more to go

The first holiday is over and there are only two more before this year becomes a bad memory. I did cook the traditional dinner for Thanksgiving, attended by my mother-in-law, my sister-in-law, my sister and two of my daughters. A girl's event, if you will. I only cried three times during the whole event. The first time was while I was peeling eggs; Wade would always sneak up behind me while I had my hands in the sink and sneak a grope, or snuggle my ear or maybe a little tickle. It was a tradition of sorts. It made me sad to think he will never do that again. Perhaps one day I will smile at the memory, but right now, it makes me cry. Even now as I type this. The next time I cried was after I was trying to "teach" my youngest daughter (age 20) about the proper handling of poultry. She and I seem to miscommunicate during these exchanges and they end up in a fight. That made me cry. Then later that night while everyone was watching a movie, I stepped outside by myself and had a good cry just because I missed him so very, very much.

All in all, it was a good time by all. No one got sick, so I guess I cooked the turkey correctly. But as for carving the bird, I wish I had paid more attention over the years. I swear I heard him laughing.

Now onto Christmas. I'm thinking a cruise is in order. And if I can pull it off, it just might cover New Years Eve as well.

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