Lover's Key, Florida

Lover's Key, Florida

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Thursday, December 6, 2012


We arrived together,

uninvited, yet expected,


She entered my life

as I entered hers,

whole and complete.

First glances

proved not enough

an invitation was needed

to lie fully clothed, perhaps,

to be held and to touch,

to feel the electric charge

of involuntary consent.

John A. Bayerl, December 4, 2012

Friday, October 12, 2012


What force is this
That compels us
Bonds us

Is it grace from past loves
That shows us
Teaches us

Is it wisdom of age
That reminds us
Don’t hold back

Is it certainty that comes from knowing
You've found the one
To love the hell out of

What is known is this
It is here
It is real

John A. Bayerl  September 23, 2012

Monday, August 27, 2012


Be still
she said
find who you are
then find me
and love me
as I will love you.

John A. Bayerl August 28, 2012

Thursday, July 12, 2012


It’s been a few days since I’ve posted anything on my blog.  Today, as I was writing a check, I noted the date—July 12, 2012.  Gwen died on November 12, 2010.  Twenty months have now passed since that evening when her life ended and mine became filled with pain, sorrow and loneliness.  The place in my heart that had been occupied by the one who made my life complete was filled with suffering and anguish.

As is the case with all who experience great loss, I had to begin to make sense of a world that in many ways had lost all meaning.  On many days, the mere act of getting out of bed seemed pointless.  Family and friends, and especially Dave, who has accompanied me since this journey began, encouraged and supported me as I began the necessary work of examining and removing that which had rushed into my heart 20 months ago.  Almost magically, I began publishing this blog, both here and on Open Salon, and included poems that came to me daily.  Countless friends, literally around the world, read what I wrote and comforted and consoled me.  The task will never be completed; nor should it be.  Joyful memories of young love, sex, the birth of a child, watching that child complete college, welcoming an adopted child. . .these memoires, and countless others like it have a permanent place in my heart.

At the time it was happening, I didn’t recognize it.  Now I see clearly that it was necessary to remove the sense of loneliness, sadness, and, yes, anger that had permeated my heart so that I could welcome in its place someone who adds even greater joy and meaning to my life.

Last week we together and reverently removed the ring that Gwen placed on my finger on June 8, 1963. It was placed in a velvet bag that contains Gwen’s rings and other jewelry.  As the ring itself is symbolic of the circle of life, so this act celebrated a love that never dies but is made more perfect as I begin anew a journey with one whose heart beats in rhythm with mine and whose soul shares my truths.

Dear you are with me always; and, Dear, welcome to your new home in my heart.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012


It’s as though we ride the crest
of a perfect wave
knowing well
the dangers of other waves
that crash on shores
of death, destruction, disillusion and despair.

Our hearts speak a deeper truth
we float as one
on an infinite sea
where endless waves
carry us along

John A. Bayerl, June 24, 2012

How can I write about this new phase in my journey without dishonoring Gwen?  Yet, how can I not write?--holding true to my promise to attempt to show the world what a long, lasting, loving relationship evolves into, even after the death of one of the partners.  Having once been blessed with that kind of love, I now find myself again in the gentle grip of one who completes my life in ways I no longer thought possible. 

Days are filled with laughter, and teasing and flirting and fun. Laughing until there are tears in our eyes--at silly thing.  The other tears; the memory-filled healing ones, still come, but not as often.  What were once long, lonely nights are now filled with dreams of better things to come, more stories to be told. All this because a mutual friend said, "there's someone you should meet."

Love comes as a surprise, Dear, we knew and lived that truth.

Thursday, June 21, 2012


Once again I see the world
with happy eyes
thoughts, once dormant,
arise now
of possibilities and potentials—
the gift astonishes—
feelings of joy
are once again rampant.

 All this because

she appeared
In my life
thought my thoughts
felt my feelings
took the chance
said let's explore
what may lie before us
have some fun.

still a constant companion
relinquishes sole possession
of my heart. . .
as it must.

John A. Bayerl, June 19, 2012

It's been a while since I've written anything.  This poem is a joyful celebration of the permanence of life and love.  She has a name.

Thank you, Dear, for giving me the faith that love is real and never ending.  

Monday, June 18, 2012

Just a little humor.

Outside a small Macedonian village, close to the border between Greece and strife-torn Yugoslavia, a lone Catholic nun keeps a quiet watch over a silent convent. She is the last caretaker of a site of significant historic developments. The convent once served as a base for the army of Attila the Hun. In more ancient times, a Greek temple to Eros, the god of love, occupied the hilltop site.

The Huns are believed to have first collected and then destroyed a large gathering of Greek legal writs at the site. It is believed that Attila wanted to study the Greek legal system and had the writs and other documents brought to the temple.

When the Greek church took over the site in the 15th Century and the convent was built, church leaders ordered the pagan statue of Eros destroyed, so another ancient Greek treasure was lost. Today, there is only the lone sister, watching over the old Hun base.

And that's how it ends:

No Huns, no writs, no Eros, and nun left on base.

It's been a while since I've posted anything to my blog.  My life is in flux; as things become more clear I will need to write about it.

The gift we shared, Dear, that love still lives.

Friday, June 8, 2012


Friday evenings, especially soft warm ones like right now, carry memories that only two people shared--Gwen and I.  During the long year before we married it was when we were back together after a week apart.  The gift  I now have is the memory of her running from her front door and throwing her arms around my neck.  Many people have memories like that; only I have the memory of holding her close, filled with emotion, words were neither possible nor necessary.

Tonight is made more special because 49 years ago our months of waiting were over and our happiness was complete as we met at the altar of  St. Mary's Church in Gaastra, Michigan and exchanged our wedding vows. This is a picture I took last summer.  It is the aisle that Gwen walked down and the altar where we met as two and left as one.  The church is now part of the Iron County Museum:

Happy Anniversary, Dear.

Monday, June 4, 2012


Feeling once again
 like the unsure boy of his youth
he knew so well
he struggles to be
the suave, sophisticated
man for the ages
others tell him he is
as he wanders about
in a world he left
long ago, never thinking
he would return to that place
of fierce, sudden passion
unexpected, unrelenting heartache.

The love of his life
the one he misses always
said the words
that took him from  all that
it mattered not
in her way of being
that she couldn’t explain what she felt
only knew it was real and lasting
and they rode off together—
why didn’t he ever buy her that horse?—
into the sunsets of endless days.

As she hoped it might be.

The sun has set
a new day arises
he once again fumbles for words
is intrigued by the smell of perfume
strains to hear a voice
that makes his heart sing
longs to touch and be touched
feels stirrings anew in his heart
sees new possibilities.

      Now the beginning.

The ending
the past
is still present
will always be                                                     
the present stays
shrouded in mystery
the future pulls at him
inviting him onward
he knows she is there
arms open wide
cheering him on.

John A. Bayerl, June 3, 2012

To tell the truth, I have no idea whether this poem is ready to be just felt like the right thing to do. Friday is Gwen's and my 49th wedding anniversary, I'm sure that has  a lot to do with the more than normal reflective mood I've been in lately.  

This may be my last posting for a few days.  Today I received news that my best buddy in high school--in today's parlance  we would have been my BFF--died of cancer.  When I was in Menominee in January for my cousin Ray's funeral, the priest who married Gwen and me, I had the chance visit with Rick and his wife at their home.  Also, about six weeks ago, when he was first diagnosed, I was able to have a long phone conversation with him.  

Dear, we always enjoyed our visits with Rick and Carol when we were in Menominee.  Wonder what you and he are saying about me?  's all good.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

DAYBREAK, by Gabriela Mistral, Chilean Poet

My heart swells that the
like a fiery cascade may
The new day comes.  Its coming
          leaves me breathless.
I sing like a cavern
I sing a new day.

For grace lost and recovered
I stand humble.  Not giving.
Until the gorgon night,
           vanquished, flees.

This poem reflects who I feel like today, it is  a poem of such hope.

Once again, Dear, you let me know that you are with me.   I was down at my desk waiting for something I was printing to be finished.  Your high-school graduation picture is on a shelf next to the printer, and when I picked it up to look again at how pretty you are a sheet of paper with this poem on it was beneath.

Thursday, May 31, 2012


This tiredness
that at times overcomes me
is a mood, a feeling
an awareness
of a lack of adequacy
it isn’t a healthy tired
after a job well done
this is bone-weary tired
that even a long night’s sleep
can’t ease
a longing for just one
of those nights
when true peace and serenity
were there for the asking
or the doing
that love makes possible--
and I tell myself
you’re doing what you said you would
and the question remains
deep in my heart
is anyone better for it
am I?

She reminds me:
I will love you always.

My soul
no longer tired.

John A. Bayerl, May 31, 2012

One of my many friends named Mary; the one who lives near Toronto, reminded me of the importance of writing something each day.  The way to write is to write.  

Tonight I was invited to a reception at the Cancer Support Community where Gwen and I attended support group meetings from when she was first diagnosed.  One of the people there is a social worker who conducted the survivor group that Gwen participated in; she did one of those things that are so important to those of us who never forget the love of our life but fear that others may-she reminded me that it was Gwen who always kept things moving, never giving in to despair, always hopeful, stubbornly making every moment of life count.  I too cherish those memories of Gwen as one who just kept going; she breathed life into every day, even on the day she took her last breath.  

Tonight I also met Dave and Mary who were in the lung cancer support group at UM Comprehensive Cancer Center.  There's always that twinge of resentment that they are still enjoying  time together on this earth.  Then I remember, as the poem says, Dear, that the gift of love we shared didn't die with you; it goes on forever.  You signed your letters that way: Yours, forever.

Monday, May 28, 2012

It's a cake, by golly.

O. K., it's a little crooked; so nobody's perfect.

Could have used your help on that frosting Dear, but, all's well that ends well.  Bring on the candles and the ice cream~

Sunday, May 27, 2012


Oh, I’ll be OK I told her
when she asked how it would be
without her
little did I know how strong
I would have to be
for this one simple thing
being alone
each day anew it is forced on  me
as I wander about
this big empty house of ours
once filled with laughter
and love
now the echo of her voice
is only heard
deep in my heart.

John A. Bayerl, May 27, 2012

Lately I've been missing Gwen as though it were a year and a half ago, just after she died.  She was so right for me, and I miss her presence in my life as a sure and constant center where I could always find peace.  

Gwen always baked a made-from-scratch German Chocolate cake for my birthday.  In memory of that, I will do the same today.   She'll be there in the kitchen with me.

Dear, I'll miss your keen eye that knew just when the frosting that I stirred and stirred over medium heat was a perfect golden brown

Tuesday, May 22, 2012


Side by side
they gather round
the campfire
of their glowing screens
listen to written words
with eyes so soft
as they battle their battles
struggle their struggles
grieve alone
in the company of others
by miles
and seas
and time zones
and area codes
and zip codes
filled with hope
they form community
forge life-giving bonds
of easy friendship.

John A. Bayerl, May 13, 2012

This is something I shared with my friends on a online bereavement group in which I participate. It was written the day after the date that marked 18 months since Gwen died.  Today I feel buoyed and lifted by the friendships I've formed through this blog and other places where it is posted.  Also today, two  special friends, one in Nevada and the other in England are commemorating the day they lost the love of their life.   Susie and Dianne, and the many, many others who encourage and support me each day make real the Swedish Proverb: "shared joy is a doubled joy; shared sorrow is half a sorrow."

From the very beginning, ours was always an easy friendship, Dear.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Five dollars for a goddam hot dog and cup of coffee!

The weather today has been absolutely perfect.  Bright and sunny, a cool dry breeze, temperature in the 70s; it didn't take much convincing for me to join Ed for a round of golf.  On my way home I realized that it had been a while since I'd had a rueben sandwich from Zingerman's Delicatessen, an Ann Arbor tradition.  After phoning in my order, I had about 20 minutes to kill, and, when I heard applause, laughter and a woman's voice on a P. A. system from the farmer's market adjacent to Zingerman's, I meandered over to see what was happening.  On the way there I strolled by the little shop where Gwen bought the leather coat made by peasants in Uruguay that I've mentioned before--what a great memory that was. The coat still hangs in my closet.  

The event for the evening, under the farmer's market canopy, was the First Annual Ann Arbor Bicycle-Commuitng Bash. where a king and queen of commuter-bicycling were going to be crowned.  After a competition involving four women and three men, the king and queen were crowned.  As near as I could tell, the woman who got to wear the queen's crown was elected on the basis of her being able to twirl a toy baton while riding one-handed on  her bicycle.  The man selected as king impressed everyone by asking his two children to vacate the cart that was fastened behind his bicycle in order for him to do a hand stand in it.   That received a lot of well-deserved applause.  My only regret was that my son-in-law, Bob, and his brother-in-law, Tom, who live near Denver and ride their bicycles to work every day, weren't with me.  They would have won the competition hands down by solving quadratic equations while balancing on their bicycles.

When the excitement over the crowning of bicycle-commuting royalty had subsided, a warm, bespectacled woman with her hair in a bun invited me to join in a drum circle.  Chairs had been placed in a circle, and in front of each chair was a drum.  The leader of the circle would beat a rhythm and the rest of us--young children along with a septuagenarian like me--would follow her lead and create a joyful sound.  This was a bittersweet moment as it brought back memories of a weekend camp that Gwen and I had attended shortly after she was diagnosed with terminal cancer.  As part of the weekend we participated in a drum circle like the one I participated in tonight.  Gwen liked it a lot, and when Gwen liked something a lot it was a dead certainty that it would soon be featured at a family gathering.  Recently, while engaging in my seemingly endless task of organizing and de-cluttering my life, I came across a CD of drum rhythms that Gwen had convinced me to buy, and the drum sticks are are still on the fireplace hearth.  My participation in the drum circle tonight reminded me to attempt to institute a drum circle as part of our next family gathering.

When I returned to Zingerman's to pick up my sandwich I was reminded of Gwen's graduation from nursing school, when Casimir and Bertha, her dad and mom, paid us a visit. As was always the case when we entertained visitors from the hinterlands of Michigan's Upper Peninsula, a visit to Zingerman's was a must.  Casimir, a. k. a. Barney, couldn't be convinced to try one of the famous ruben sandwiches, but he did order a hot dog and cup of coffee.  I knew what was going to happen next:  when it came time to pay for our meal; Barney would insist on paying, and I would simply ignore his request and pay it myself.  He reluctantly acquiesced to my demand to pick up the tab, and, try as I might, I wasn't able to keep him from taking a peek at the itemized bill.  "Five dollars for a goddam  hot dog and a cup of coffee," he bellowed, "I used to work all day in the mine for five dollars!"   "Please, please," I prayed, "make the hot dog as good as Zingerman's claims it is--and the coffee even better"   As always, Bertha came to the rescue, and told Barney in  no uncertain terms that he should be thankful that her daughter was in such high estate that she could afford to spend five dollars for a hot dog and cup of coffee.  "Just be thankful that you have something to fill your belly," she said.   After grumbling a bit, Barney filled his hot dog bun with onions, slathered on some mustard and enjoyed his hot dog.  He even grudgingly conceded that the coffee was petty good, though not as good as the coffee he carried in his thermos to the mine each day.  Today's  pleasant May evening was made even more special by this fond memory.  

Dear, as I recalled special remembrances of what at the time were seemingly ordinary events,  I am grateful for all we had and shared--we were blessed in so many ways.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012


A year ago; on a stormy day, I posted this.  Today is a bright, shiny day.

Now I walk through life
as best I can without her
in a reality tinged with sadness.

Yet, she is with me,
hovering in the background,
always in the corner of my eye;
gently prodding, encouraging me onward.

Let our love live,
she tells me, find ways
to let it shine in the world.

John A. Bayerl, May 21, 2011

Our son, John, Jr., has a beautiful  picture of Marquette taken from a beach on Lake Superior.  It makes me happy/sad; I can see Gwen enjoying being at the beach, she loved Lake Superior, while our dog Max relentlessly stalks seagulls and sticks floating in the water.  I had the same kind of feeling on the golf course yesterday; it seemed so unfair that Gwen wasn't there enjoying a beautiful summer evening with me.  That's what it's like to miss someone who was such a constant source of love in your life.   I've learned that Gwen's death has had a way of sharpening my priorities; I came to the realization that there are few things in this world that really matter much beyond the three F's--faith, family and friends.  Most of the rest of it is, as the song says, blowing in the wind.  So, I'll feel sorry for myself and cry if I want to.

My friend, Frank, called this morning to tell me that his wife, Caroline, died yesterday morning.  We talked for at least an hour.  Like Gwen, she fought lung cancer for a much longer time than had been predicted.  Also, she was a non-smoker.  We first met them at a support group meeting at St. Joseph Mercy Cancer Center back in 2006.  Her funeral Mass is Saturday morning.  Many of our friends will be there,  while it will be great to see them all again, it promises to be another tearful event. . .  good for the soul kind of tears.

It's mid afternoon and a storm has arrived; it's gotten terribly dark, there's lightning and thunder, the wind is driving big raindrops against the antique school bell on the post outside my window.   Especially, on a stormy day; love needs to shine in the world--as always,  the poem is for you, Dear.

Sunday, May 13, 2012


A day for mothers
filled with memories.

Mother Claire
gave me life itself
then filled it with love
of reading
and learning
and music
gave me to myself.

Mother-in-law Bertha
gave my life
joyful noise
with stories
and polkas
and a grin
gave me her daughter.

Wife Gwen
Mother of our children
gave me love itself
then filled it with life
made emptiness full
made us into each other.
gave me all of her

John A. Bayerl, May 11, 20

Happy Mother's Day, Dear.

Saturday, May 12, 2012


It must be
that this happens
to all who grieve—
there is a separation
a distancing
that draws things nearer—
what is now
no longer bears the mark
of what was then
the connection is
in many ways
stronger,  more grounded
less urgent
yet more immediate
soft embraces
all that follows
so very different now
so very much the same

          put another way

the young robin perches
out on a limb
ready for first flight
the soft feathered nest beckons.

John A. Bayerl, May 12, 2012

So what is a 74 year old man doing talking about separation anxiety?  Doesn't that happen in early childhood, before the child reaches the age of 18 month?  Doesn't it have to do with the child feeling anxious about being separated from its primary caregiver, usually the mother?   Shouldn't an old guy be in Erickson's Stage 8, integrity versus despair--reflecting on his life and finding a sense of fulfillment in his accomplishments, accepting death as inevitable?  

Today, May 12, marks 18 months since Gwen died.  Tomorrow will be Mother's Day.  For me, as I reflect on these two events,  there are times when I am overtaken by this sense of feeling alone, adrift, far from the safety that the love Gwen and I shared provided.  Yes, death is inevitable.  Yet, there remains much to accomplish in honor and recognition of the love that bound us for 50 years. It is a blessing, this being able to sense that I am between the two poles of the inevitable finality of death and the hope that springs from entering into the ongoing flow of life. It's not such a bad place to be.  It feels redemptive.

In one of her letters Gwen sent me this quote she had read somewhere, in her usual, common-sense way, she said: "this makes sense:"

When you talk, you are only repeating what you already know, but, if you listen, you may learn something.

Sometimes, Dear, before I talk, I listen to my heart and what you have left me there--I always learn something,--when I listen.

Thursday, May 10, 2012


I caress the lining
of her leather coat
and think of all the times
she was there
 next to the satin
filled with love
shielded from the cold
feeling safe, secure
in my embrace.

I am reassured
that she is here
one more time
let me help you with your coat

John A. Bayerl, May 10, 2012

Perhaps it's the reminder in the store where I looked for Mother's Day cards.  I remembered how  I would tease that she wouldn't get a card from me--she wasn't my mother.  Now, I couldn't look at those cards, what fun it would have been to pick one out just for her, usually it would contain a reference to something that only she and I knew about.  She was the mother of our children.

On the lighter side, I noticed a previously unseen category for Mother's Day cards..Ex-Daughter-in-Law. I suppose. . .

Monday, May 7, 2012


Off to the track.

Saturday I was at the Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, Michigan.  (Yes, there really is a Brooklyn in Michigan.)  Son John, Jr., who is a science/technology teacher at the Michael Berry Career Center in Dearborn, asked me to serve as a parent volunteer at a "competition" involving teams from high schools in Michigan that participate in an event sponsored by SQUARE ONE, a non-profit foundation that encourages high-school students to creatively design and build a car, using a frame similar to one that might be found on a dune buggy and an electric motor and batteries.

It's too complicated to try to explain it all, but essentially it is a very successful effort that seeks to encourage students in high school to use their creativity and ingenuity to design, engineer and build a car that incorporates innovative elements and is also energy efficient.  The car that  John's students built is shown in the top picture.  The bottom picture shows Cecelia, who drove the car in a couple of events doing some last minute preparations to the ear piece that she wore.

While most of the teams that entered were able to build their cars in their school's shop facilities, John took pride in knowing that his team was comprised of students in a computer class that he teaches.  His "shop" was a bench in his carpeted, computer classroom.   They even had to provide their own tools.  American ingenuity at its best.

What impressed me most about the day was seeing students involved in a real-life learning experience where they had to learn to think on their feet and problem solve.  Additionally, and most importantly from my perspective, I saw young people experiencing the many good things that result from teamwork and cooperation.  As a bonus, in my role of parent volunteer I attended the main entrance to the raceway, and was able to greet and talk with many proud parent who had come to support their children.  All-in-all, a most satisfying day.

Of course, Dear, this would have meant so much more had you been there with me; beaming with pride about your son and enjoying meeting the young people from their diverse cultures and backgrounds.  

Tuesday, May 1, 2012


It hangs on a hook
in  the closet
where she left it
caramel-color leather
not real big
just right for someone petite.

Her wallet is still inside
driver’s license, now expired,
insurance cards
no longer needed
little note she wrote
to herself—
buy John a B. D. card—
later delivered
with a kiss.

All a sweet reminder
from her
that she was here
in full force
keeping our life on track
inside her purse
where she kept her treasures—
and tissues for tears.

The things I value most
I keep in the purse
hanging there on the wall
where she left it.

John A. Bayerl, April 25, 2012

Gwen was a diabetic for for 40 years.  When she was diagnosed with cancer she joked, with that gallows humor of hers, that she was sure that the diabetes that would get her, and now this.  Like all other obstacles in  her life, she managed the diabetes and never allowed it to define who she was;  returned to school, earned her BSN, and then had a long career as an OR nurse in the Kellogg Eye Center.  

In addition to the many things a woman carries in her purse, including a round hair brush, she also had all of her insulin supplies:  glucometer, needles, and test strips.  Searching for a comb, pen or stick of gum in her purse was an adventure.  When she was able to begin using an insulin pump, we welcomed how much easier it made things, and her purse breathed a huge sigh of relief.

Now all of her insulin supplies have been donated, and her purse, including a depleted wallet hangs in the closet.  She always kept the family checkbook in there, a tradition that I still maintain.  For me, it is a sacred relic of sorts, a solid reminder of the how the most mundane things in  life take on unexpected, pleasant, overwhelming meaning.  We convince ourselves that we can prepare for death, know what to expect.  Not true, at least, not for me. No one can know what it feels like to face the death of one who made life complete until one knows what it feels like.  And, there's only one way to do that. 

I've begun "dating," Dear; it's weird--it was so much easier when I was a teenager.  I know you are in this with me; but damn, you set the pole awfully high.

Friday, April 27, 2012


I leave the land
of empty darkness
reach for the lamp
that reveals
the day ahead
where I do the things
that make me
where even on the cloudiest day
it is the daylight
that gives life meaning
until night
when I reach for the lamp
to enter again
the land of empty darkness
where dreams are no longer allowed.

John A. Bayerl, April 25, 2012

Sometimes, not always, I feel like this poem.  It describes what grief can feel like at times.  I feel fortunate that I am able to write about it and "share it with the world."  More and more,I find myself entering fully into life with the conviction that the more I help and love others the stronger I will become.  I suppose it's the old truism that the more we give the more we get, but it feels much more real than those trite words.  It's good to be in this transition stage and exciting to see what may be next.

Dear, you always brought life to my life; there was never any empty darkness.

Thursday, April 19, 2012


I watch a squirrel
build a nest
in the four-pronged oak
outside my window.
Last night’s storm
left branches and limbs
scattered everywhere—
easy pickings
for a squirrel
that rode out the storm
in an oaken crotch
and thought about baby
squirrels yet to come
knew to get busy
building a nest
before the next storm arrived.

I am sad for a moment
knowing how she enjoyed
simple things like that
a squirrel building a nest—
then the sadness is eased
as I reach for her hand
safe in our nest
we enjoy being here
watching a squirrel
prepare for the future.

John A. Bayerl, April 19, 2012

How could something as simple as a squirrel building a nest in a tree outside my window evoke such deep and gratifying memories of the one I loved so dearly?  The reminders will always be there; today it was discovering batteries for Gwen's insulin pump in a drawer in the freezer.  Like the squirrel's nest, they were a barrier against disaster in the future.  Now, what are they? A gentle reminder of a life that was lived fully and appreciatively.  A reminders too that, like the squirrel, I must continue to prepare for the future.  

This was another of those times, Dear, when it was good to feel your presence as I was reminded of the pleasure you took in the simplest things in nature--including me.

Thursday, April 12, 2012


I had heard the words
spoken before
said them myself
with, I thought, conviction
deep emotion.
heard them repeated, whispered
through a kiss
believed the words
to be true
as my heart filled
with something new
pure and white
warm, but like snow
silently falling, giving
witness, making new
two young hearts
filled with only desire.

April came
perhaps there was too much
warmth, the snow melted
into the summer
when roses, not love, grew lush,
and in the fall
all was brown and shriveled
my heart was once again
through the winter that came
filled with deep, dirty snow.

ever so cautiously
the words formed again
in two hearts
while two eyes looked
into the window
of another soul
and the words
I love you
were spoken aloud
once more
but different
giddy with delight
when all the April snow
had melted.

John A. Bayerl, March 3, 2012

Today, April 12, 2012, is a special day in two ways.  Today marks 17 months since I lost my perfect partner.  In a way that seems like impossibly long ago, while in another way it seems like just a breath away.  It's still the hardest thing I do each morning, awakening to the reality that Gwen is no longer with me in bed.

On a much, much happier note, it was 50 years ago today that, while on spring break, I visited Gwen at her home in Gaastra.  We went out parking, which is what we did in those days, shared a kiss, looked into each others' eyes and said, simultaneously, "I love you."   Then Gwen, in the way that only she could, said:  "Maybe we should think about getting married."  The maybe wasn't about our love for each other; we knew that we were meant for each other.    The maybe was about knowing we would have to make some major decisions concerning both Gwen's and my future career and education plans.  The maybe was about recognizing that there were obstacles in our way, but it was never about our ability, as partners, to meet and surmount those challenges.  Now, 50 years later, as I ponder my future without Gwen, I am grateful  that Gwen and I were graced with the gift of a lasting love.

A friend recently introduced me to the idea of "It."   Many times since Gwen's death others have commented to me about how lucky Gwen and I were that we were able to find "It" together.  Yes, there is the "luck" of having that flirty young girl plop herself on my lap in the back seat of my friend's car.  Beyond that, our "It," as is the case with all lasting marriages, was the result of things like dedication, hard work, respect, good sex,  family adventures, and, over all, seeing each challenge that arose as an opportunity to, if I may paraphrase St. Francis of Assisi, "say we love each other always, and, when necessary, use words." 

In contrast, 51 years ago I was on the verge of ending a love affair with a girl named Betty Jo.  We were sure that we loved each other dearly, yet, just couldn't make it work.  In a strange way I find great comfort in knowing that, although it may at the time appear to be the end of the world when something beautiful ends, in fact it can signal the beginning of something even more beautiful.  That's what the poem is about.  It's also about believing that life doesn't end; it changes.  

I haven't written in a while, Dear. I thought long and hard about what I've said here and my commitment to always have what I write honor you.   You are never forgotten, always held deep in my heart.

Monday, April 2, 2012


This is what I told my friend
about poetry and me
it’s kind of shorthand
for who I am today
a synopsis
of all I’ve ever been
a glimpse
of who I am yet to be.

John A. Bayerl, April 2, 2012

Recently I had an exchange with a friend about how down in the dumps she has been feeling.  When I suggested that perhaps it might be helpful for her to write a poem, she asked why, and this is the response I gave her.  Two days later I received a gorgeous poem from her. And, she is feeling much better.  There is a power in poetry that allows me to "cleanse" my heart and soul.  At least that's how it works for me, and it also seemed to work in this instance.

That being said, I've been in kind of a trough lately, not much coming from my heart, much less my soul.  It's part of being in this transition period I find myself experiencing.  Or, maybe it's just the spring of the year.  In spite of all our modern miracles and explanations, there is till something to be said for spring fever.  Wonder if I have any sulphur and molasses?

I have been a bit adventurous and ventured out on a couple of "dates" with someone I met here in Ann  Arbor.  Also a widow, she has become a friend and made some good suggestions about how I might wish to go about reconfiguring my life.  God, that sounds geeky--reconfigure my life, sounds like an art project.  Maybe it is.

Anne will be home  this weekend, Dear, and we are planning a brunch with friends and relatives Sunday morning.  We'll leave a place at the table for you, and offer an orange juice toast.

Thursday, March 29, 2012


Perhaps one of the most difficult aspects of  Gwen's illness was to watch someone so vital and appreciative of every moment of life lose ground each day on the things that we simply take for granted.  Things like being able to dress, walk from one room to another, feed oneself, or even brush her teeth.  Had she been able to do so, she would have stomped her feet and said "I do not like this one bit!"  In fact, she often said words similar to that.  I have said before that caring for her was never difficult, she made it easy, and, in the process, taught our children and me a lot about unconditional love.

In her book Kitchen Table Wisdom, Rachel Ramen makes this statement:  "The healing of our present woundedness may lie in recognizing and reclaiming the capacity we all have to heal each other, the enormous power in the simplest human relationship; the strength of a touch, the blessing of forgiveness, the grace of someone else taking you just as you are, and finding in you an unsuspected goodness." 

Many of you know that Gwen was diagnosed with Type I Diabetes at age 28.  As she would later do with cancer, she acknowledged that she had this disease and then went on with living her life just as she wanted; which included returning to college at the age of 36 and earning a bachelors degree in nursing.  In a funny sort of way, what happened was that my children and I loved her, not in spite of her disease, but because of her disease. Such was the strength of her character. 

 In my professional training and practice I have often been taken by the awesome power of unconditional love and acceptance.  Especially during her illness, Gwen showed us that power by her refusal to ever complain about either the unfairness of her illness or the manner in which we cared for her. In return, we all grew in our appreciation of and ability to practice unconditional love. The words below are  my attempt to capture a little piece of what that felt like:

I lean over
Kiss her on the neck
Do my best Mr. Rogers
I love you just the way you are.

I love you more
She whispers back
Kisses me on the cheek
Softly, gently.

Imagine doing that
For fifty years
And then no more
Welcome to my neighborhood.

John A. Bayerl, February 1,  2011

 The healing of our present woundedness may lie in recognizing and reclaiming the capacity we all have to heal each other. . .

Wednesday, March 28, 2012


The last time I was at Macy’s
She was with me
in a wheel chair
now I’m ready to go there again

Or am I?

Maybe, if I avoid
Petite Women’s Clothing
especially the chair by the dressing room
Children’s Clothing
it’s OK to spoil them rotten
Youth Dew Powder
need I say more?

Should have known
they’re having a clearance sale
on sweet memories.

I'll leave the way I came in
down the long hallway
where the restrooms are
I'll be safe
walking through there
but safe.

John A. Bayerl, March 28, 2012

Yesterday, while I was at the Apple Store at the mall, getting help with unfreezing my i-Pod, I saw the entrance to Macy's Department Store, and all the sweet memories came flooding in.  I notice that I now call them sweet memories.

Lately I've been in a strangely suspended state of being.  Leaving something, heading for something new.  I told a friend about this, and added that it would be easier if I were younger.  Change is hard at any age.  Remember; we don't fear change, we fear loss.  Then there's that saying about the more things change the more they stay the same.  You've always loved paradoxes; tolerate the ambiguity.

This I know for sure,  Dear; the gift of love we shared never changes.

Thursday, March 22, 2012


At least for me
one of the things that is missed
is the kissing—
think about it
at only two kisses per day
after 50 years
we’re talking about
close to 37,00 of them
and there were certainly days
when two kisses were just a beginning.

Will I ever forget
that first kiss
at her front door
the one that made me dance
all the way back to the car?

Then came the electric kisses
the hungry ones
that opened places in my heart
I didn’t know existed,
the passionate ones
that sucked the air out of my lungs
and put life into our love.

It was just one kiss
but it was sanctified
when it was OK
to kiss the bride.

Then that night
of the wedding
the sticky kisses
like the suction cup
that holds the Christmas Candle
to my window
lips touch slowly
not hesitantly
until they peel part
with regret
almost, it seems,
a cell at a time. 

She would say they made her weak
and dizzy
those kisses standing there
in our bedroom
dressed to kill—
or not dressed at all.

Maybe the best were the spontaneous ones
that just happened naturally
in the course of a day
for no reason at all
just a pleasant acknowledgment
of a gift not lightly accepted.

Although it happened every night
it could hardly be called ordinary
that peck on the cheek
or the lips 
with the words I love you
securely attached.

Those last kisses
when we knew there would soon
be no more
were the most precious
of all—
finally, the kiss
on her cold lips
when she left the house
for the last time.

John A. Bayerl, March 22, 2012

Maybe it's the unseasonably warm weather we've been having that is hastening spring fever.  At times like this, how can someone who lost the person who made life make sense not be reminded of the simple sweetness of kisses exchanged in a life together?  Oh, those warm spring nights.  

It was a week ago that the tornado hit Dexter, ten miles from here.  Tonight it is once again clouding up and thunderstorms are in the forecast.  This is unheard of in this neck of the woods, but tomorrow I'm going to have to mow the lawn.  The good news about tomorrow is that Brooke will spend the day with me.  Work in the yard in the morning, then a movie in the afternoon.  

I've begun moving in the direction of meeting new friends.  I'll write more about that later when I kind of get things figured out a little better.  For now, it's enough for me to. like a turtle, carefully and cautiously poke my head out of my shell to see what's out there in the world.

The poem about kisses is all about you, Dear; how I miss all of it.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012


This is something I posted more than a year ago.  It seems appropriate to publish it again, on the first day of spring.  We've been having exceptionally warm weather in Ann Arbor; today the temperature was in the 80s.  The daffodils, hyacinths, lilies and crocuses have all poked their head out of the ground.  This was Gwen's favorite time of year, and she enjoyed seeing the emergence of living things when she had been told by doctors that she wouldn't see that annual miracle of the season.  I am particularly happy that the four hyacinth bulbs I planted as part of her garden last fall are now up and ready to bloom.  She loved hyacinths, particularly their sweet smell.  So, this repost is kind of about all those things, life and love and living:

I try always to keep clear my primary purpose in making these postings.  It is to honor the memory of my dear wife Gwen.  I find, however, that at times, rather than a memorial commentary per se,  they take the form of a memoir.  This posting will probably fall into that category.  It's unavoidable, to talk about Gwen is to talk about me, we were pretty much inseparable all of our life. In a talk on transformational love Msgr. Zenz made a statement that "when we fall in love we find ourself by losing ourself in the beloved."   It helps me to understand my grief to think about how Gwen and I, early on, really did lose ourselves in one another.  I'm sure we didn't talk about it in that manner.  It was more like the note I talked about yesterday where she says, "I can't think or concentrate much tonight because you give me too much to think about myself."  This is an extremely self-confident, cocky young woman, 19 years old, who is making this statement.  I remember it well.  Love, real love, can be scary.  It's such a leap of faith.  What we both learned, of course, is that when you fall, you fall forever, at least, that's how it was for us.

The first five years of our marriage were an exciting adventure to say the least.  Year one we spent the summer in Marquette where I attended summer school.  (Also, this was our "honeymoon".)  In the fall we moved to Ann Arbor where I attended the UM and Gwen worked as a secretary in the Dietetics Department at the Veteran's Hospital in Ann Arbor.  It wasn't all work, she also became pregnant with our first child, son John.  Year two we spent in Reedsville, Wisconsin, where I was the "Guidance Man" in the schools and Gwen gave birth to our daughter Jeanne.  Year three we were in Portland, Oregon, where I completed a year of graduate studies and Gwen participated with me in many of the group activities that were popular at the time; "sensitivity groups" come to mind.  That year we discovered "the pill." Years four and five we lived in Flint, Michigan, where I served as guidance director for the Westwood Heights Schools and Gwen worked as a substitute teacher.  Early in year five Gwen gave birth to our third child,  Michael, and, later in the year,  I secured a position as a counselor with the Ann Arbor Public schools.  In the fall of that year we moved to Ann Arbor.

In order to earn money for a down payment on a home in Ann Arbor I spent the summer of 1968 working as a security guard at the Chevrolet Stamping Plant in Flint.  The job paid very well, but I filled in for vacationing permanent employees, which meant I worked weekends, holidays and the late shifts, 3:00 p. m. to 11:00 p. m. and sometimes 11:00 p. m. to 7:00 a. m.  Gwen was left with the task of keeping the household running.  She had now reached full maturity and become a most beautiful woman in spite of having given birth to three children; I could tell by the way men looked at her when we were out together. I remember feeling some occasional pangs of jealousy when I had to leave her alone at night although she never gave me the slightest reason to doubt her love.  Maybe it was more like I've discussed before, I was jealous of myself. I wanted only to continue to be worthy of that wonderful woman.

One task I had as a night watchman was to  spend four of the eight hours of my shift assigned to a little guard house in a field next to a place where trains enter the property through a gate in the cyclone fence.  My only job was to remain alert and, if, as occasionally occurred, a train came through the gate, I would write down the number of the train and the time it arrived.  Remaining alert was the challenge, I was not allowed to read,  listen to a radio, talk on the telephone or do anything that might distract me from my primary duty which was to wait for that next train to come down the tracks.  No one had said anything about writing, so I did a lot of that when I pulled duty guarding the railroad tracks.  Looking back now, I can see that it was a blessing in disguise because it forced me to slow down the crazy pace of life I had been pursuing and reflect on the important things in my life, and my beautiful wife Gwen was number one on that list.  It was then that I wrote this lengthy reflection on the love of my life.  I found it in its original, written in pencil on a yellowed sheet of paper from that guardhouse by the railroad tracks:

How strange it seems, but it’s true
to be married five years and awake one
day to discover
that your love for your wife is real,
and to feel in your heart what it means
when you say you love her,
to know and to feel that this woman
is your commitment, not just for now,
but for always,
and to know that this love that you feel
will grown stronger and more beautiful through
all of your days.

Does this mean that you did not love her before?
That for five years and more you’ve been
living a lie?
I think not, for it seems only right
that, if love is to grow, its earlier
imperfections must die,
and be recognized as such and nothing more,
lest they smother the tender new love and
prevent it from bearing new fruit,
which too must be harvested and planted anew,
so that new love may again appear while the
love that bore it remains mute.

So you ask her (your wife) to understand
that this new you who’s come into
her dull routine life,
seeks only to say words to her
that you’ve said before and will say again
to her, your wife,
that with each time she hears them again,
the man who speaks them is a little more
devoted and true,
and he’s learned a little bit more
about what it means when a husband
tells his wife “I love you.”

John A. Bayerl,  circa 1968

After I shared this with Gwen, I put it away to be typed later.  Now, almost 50 years later, I finally got around to typing it.  It means as much today as it did then, the evolving and growing love that I shared in the poem didn't die with her.  She's reading and loving those word again, just as I am.