Lover's Key, Florida

Lover's Key, Florida

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Saturday, December 31, 2011


This is based on a post I made almost  a year ago.   New Year's Eve seems like a good time to remember how important the seemingly insignificant things of life can be.  
 One of the things I've discovered since Gwen's death is that, although most of her belongings have been donated to charity, I continue to find things she left behind. Sometimes these items, which would have seemed terribly insignificant a year ago, now take on great emotional meaning. Among the items that have affected me this way are a box of Youth Dew body powder, black silk underwear, the pillow she slept on and a photo of her kissing me on the steps of the church right after we were married.  Sometimes I write poems about these things
The biggest discovery of all was letters we had written to each other from April, 1962, through June, 1963, when we were married. The one thing we knew for certain is that we were deeply in love, and, after a great deal of discussion, Gwen decided to drop out of college at the end of her sophomore year and take a job as a bookkeeper at a lumber yard in Iron River. (The decision for her to leave college was not taken lightly, she was a scholarship student, and her parents would have preferred that she remain in school.  In our wedding vows I wrote in a sentence where I promised that I would help her complete college, and in 1980 she received a Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing from EMU.  Her parents were as proud of her on that day as I was.)  She stayed at home with her parents that year, and I began my first year as a commercial teacher at Stephenson High School only a few miles from my home. I stayed on the farm near Menominee with my parents and younger brother and sister.
 So, there we were, madly in love with each other, but living 100 miles apart. Each weekend for more than a year I drove to Gaastra and spent the weekend with her. In the days between we wrote letters to each other. These were the letters I found hidden away in a storage bin in the basement of our home. What fun it was to read them all. I've told friends that it was kind of like seeing the movie Secretariat, which Gwen and I and all of our children and grandchildren did just a month before she died. As was the case with reading the letters, I knew how the movie would turn out, but there was the lingering doubt that maybe there was something I had forgotten or some historical truth that I didn't know existed. Maybe it wouldn't turn out the way I knew it did! To my relief, Secretariat won the Triple Crown of  horse racing and I won the triple crown of love and marriage. It was all there in the movie and in our letters.
During the almost five years of Gwen's illness it was not always easy for me to be her caregiver, and it was harder yet for her, the strong, assertive, independent woman that she was, to consent to my caring for her. Yet, as she made it easy for me to love her during 47 years of marriage, she also made it easy for me to care for her during the years she was ill. After re-reading our letters I can now see in them the core of the love and commitment to each other that would sustain and nourish us not only the through the "for better" parts of our marriage but especially during the "for worse" times. I tried to express this in a poem I wrote:
 She saved everything:
I found the letters we exchanged
the year before we wed,
when we lived apart.

They were neatly bundled
wrapped in  plastic;
each letter carefully
returned to its envelope.

All were placed in order
day to day, month to month
John wrote to Gwen 137 times,
Gwen wrote to John 134 times.

I read them all, on New Year’s Eve
and on into New Years Day,
every last one of them,
even the birthday and Valentine cards.

There was lots of ordinary stuff
like headaches and cold sores
and three coffee pots at her shower.
Always, love was there--in each letter.

It was a love that would grow
on into the years, until death do us part.
In those 271 declarations of that love,
there was never a waver or doubt.

Death did us part,
as we knew it someday would.
The words in our letters                                          
now carry new meanings.

The one who completed me
has left me incomplete
asking me to pursue our dreams
without her at my side.

I will love you forever
is made more real
each day since she’s gone.
I wish she could write me one more letter.
 John A. Bayerl,   January 2, 2011
 I choose to believe that Gwen does write me letters.  I have written 140 poems since she died.  This is one of them.  I have no idea where the words come from.  Sometimes, my heart and soul are as dry and barren as a desert.  At other times, words fly down from the heavens, and I scribble them on a piece of paper as fast as I can and organize them into something coherent later. The words have to be coming from God and Gwen.  She does still write me letters, I am sure of it. There’s no other explanation for it.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

What doesn't kill you. . .

I’m in a reflective mood today although I also got a lot accomplished. Dad would have had only one word for today’s weather—unhealthy.  The day began with snow, light at first, then big feathery flakes.  Next there was sleet, then rain mixed with snow, then rain, and tonight it is again turning to snow. 

As I left the gym after my workout and was driving away in my car I experienced a feeling that I often get.  First there is a sense that I am alone, not only in the car,   but in the world.  Along with this there is the realization that I am free to do anything I choose.  Should I decide to do so, I could turn down the heat in the house, lock the doors, and go anywhere I like.  One way to describe this feeling is a paradoxical term I’ve invented—forced freedom.  For just an instant I have an almost euphoric feeling that I am without any responsibilities, maybe for the first time in my life.  This is quickly followed by the realization that, although I may feel all alone, in fact, I am important to my children, grandchildren, relatives and friends.

It’s interesting to me that I said I am important to others; not that I have a responsibility or obligation to be available for them.  Perhaps this is another gift that Gwen left for me.  For the duration of her illness, right up to the day she died, she never complained, became angry or made excessive demands.  She made it easy for me to care for and love her.  Caring for her was neither a responsibility nor an obligation; we talked about this, it was a chance to make our love for each other visible in a context we could never have imagined when we exchanged our wedding vows.  We knew that not everyone receives a gift such as the miraculous love we received,. and we nurtured and cared for it always. 

My son, Mike, has said to me; “what doesn’t kill you will make you stronger.”  With Gwen and me it was somewhat the opposite: what killed her made both of us stronger.  (I wish there were a better way to say that; it seems almost profane to say something as beautiful as that so bluntly.)

This evening, Dear, for just a little while I lay on the bed in the room downstairs where we were together to the end.  I breathed in sweet memories of lying close to you or simply holding your hand.   One of us would say, sometimes in a whisper, “I love you.”  The other always said, “I love you more.”  Then I had a good cry.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

One of those day.

From the time I awoke this morning I felt Gwen's absence in the emptiness of the house, yet I felt her presence near me as I went about the day.  This was most obvious when I called Izzy and wished her a happy birthday.  Where were you, Gwen?  You loved to sing Happy Birthday on the phone, especially to the grandchildren.  That wasn't the only time I missed you to the bottom of my heart today.  I remembered to buy some snacks and bottled water for the Wellness Community, and, when I went to deliver them (I wasn't able to deliver them, the center is closed until January 3.) I drove past the home on Huron River Drive that was for sale and that you always thought we should buy,  In fact, on more than one occasion we stopped and took a look at it.  I always thought it was not much of a home, but you loved it, especially the fact that it was on a hill and overlooked Gallup Pond.

It's been a quiet day all in all.  I've done some reading and writing and then did some grocery shopping and a few other errands.  Now its' just quiet time at night, and I'm enjoying looking at our little Christmas Tree.  Also today, I sorted through cards I've received over the past year.  Some are Christmas Cards from this year, but others are sympathy cards received a year ago.  It was good to read them again--Gwen was so loved by everyone who knew her.  People comment on how loving and kind she was; and gentle.  I'm working on a poem about Gwen and how uncomplicated she was.

Dear, you will be pleased to know that the home on Huron River Drive has been sold.  There was a car in the driveway, and there were lights in the windows.  In a way, none of that seems important now, but, because it was important to you, it added emotion and meaning to my day. 

Tuesday, December 27, 2011


Red, red wine
was the song
we danced to
on the deck
of the catamaran
on the way to Nevis Island.

Red, red lips
were the ones I kissed
as we floated
over coral
and fish of every color
there in the Caribbean.

Red, red eyes
are the ones that cry
as I recall
the joy of
those days
on the Isle of St. Kitts.

John A. Bayerl, December 27, 2011

It's a cold, snowy day, and I'm remembering a week that Gwen and I spent on St. Kitts Island.  It was quite an experience for the two of us who had never left the Continental United States, much less seen the beauty below the surface on a coral reef.   We had done a lot since our wedding: travelled about the country, increased our family to four children, filled with pride when Gwen graduated with a BSN in nursing; and now we were at a resort on island in the Caribbean.  Whatever regrets we may have had about "forgetting" to have a honeymoon were soon put aside during that week.  We snorkeled, enjoyed a ride to Nevis Island on a catamaran, and, best of all from Gwen's point-of-view, took a horseback ride around St. Kitts.  Mostly, we relished doing nothing but lying around on the beach and swimming in the surf.  That, and re-affirming our love for each other.  

And, it was a red red letter day, Dear, that warm day in April when you said, "John, maybe we ought to think about getting married."  

Monday, December 26, 2011



Her last birthday
with us
we went to a movie,
Secretariat, she loved horses.

Sitting next to her,
there in the theater
seeing her in real life
she looked so shrunken
too small for the seat.
How could she ever have
ridden a horse?

I saw brave and beautiful.

Wanted so much
to protect her
from what lay ahead.

I could not, of course.

Like all who shared her love,
all I could do is watch
as she showed  how to do it all—
bravely and beautifully.

John A. Bayerl, February 15, 2011

 This afternoon my daughter, Anne, and I attended the movie The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo.  Anne will return home to Dallas tomorrow, and I appreciated the chance to do one more family thing with her.  I've been blessed at having been surrounded by the love of our children and grandchildren, relatives, and friends, especially during the past week.  Seeing the movie today was good, it's better to stay busy.  Yet, even at the theater there are the reminders of the seats where we sat, the corner in the wall where I would stash away her folded up wheelchair.  And, it brought back sweet memories of when I read the book on which the movie is based to Gwen each night at bedtime.  It seems fitting to repost a poem that I wrote back in February.

Today, the day after Christmas, I am feeling more blue than usual.  Why should that be, I wonder?  Some of it is the letdown we all experience after the rush of the holidays has subsided.  But, beyond that, I have this feeling of being bereft, deserted by the one who meant everything in the world to me.  As I write this I am aware of how hard and selfish these feelings are; and in some way I don't fully understand it is important for me to write about them.  In my heart and soul I know that Gwen and I loved each other to the end; she fought with everything she had to be with me for as long as she could.  It comes back to what I've written about and felt before; those words "until death do us part" that we repeated in our wedding vows now mean just what they say.  

If at times I do feel deserted by you, Dear; it's because there were so many more things we would have enjoyed doing together, and I still have all this love for you in my heart.  I'm working on  a poem about the week we spent in St. Kitts; one of the things we did get to do.

Saturday, December 24, 2011



The last thing at night
before drifting off to sleep
I feel again
your body close to mine
my cares of the day
dissolve into its soft warmth.

I hold you again
in the way
that only I can.

How many times
did I welcome
the graceful gift
of your nearness?

It matters not
I believe
that all those nights
have passed.
I’ll know them again
as each yesterday
becomes the present.

John A. Bayerl, December 24, 2011

Pictures and poetry have power to plumb the depths of our hearts.

Another Christmas without you, Dear; we'll never get used to it.  I'm blessed to see you in our children and their children; when memories aren't enough.



The last thing at night
before drifting off to sleep
I feel again
your body close to mine
my cares of the day
dissolve into its soft warmth.

I hold you again
in the way
that only I can.

How many times
did I welcome
the graceful gift
of your nearness?

It matters not
I believe
that all those nights
have passed.
I’ll know them again
as each yesterday
becomes the present.

John A. Bayerl, December 24, 2011

Pictures and poetry have power to plumb the depths of our hearts.

Another Christmas without you, Dear; we'll never get used to it.  I'm blessed to see you in our children and their children;when memories aren't enough.

Friday, December 23, 2011



We found it by chance
the little diner
that served grilled pecan rolls
on Sunday morning
we went there after Mass
enjoyed the coffee and the rolls
but mainly each other’s company—
our own special time
in our own special place
two kids from the U. P.
newly in love
with everything
bright and shiny.

Time was forever then
we had each other
and needed nothing more.

Now our secret rendezvous
is a bed and breakfast
I pass by it often
pecan rolls just a memory
yet I feel such softness in my heart
remembering how everything fit
all was perfect as could be
we had each other
wanted for nothing. 

John A. Bayerl, December 22, 2011

I've been having particularly poignant memories of Gwen tonight.  In a good way.  I think she loves the little Christmas Tree that Nick, Izzy and Brooke decorated.  Ginette gave me the idea of putting baby's breath on it, and a long time ago Gwen wanted to put red ribbons on our tree, but somehow we never got around to it. Tonight we did.  

Tomorrow will be Christmas Eve; we'll celebrate at Terri's house first, and then at home with the whole family gathered around.  I will set an empty plate at the table when we eat, and we'll drink a toast of Bailey's Irish Cream, Gwen's favorite when she made her famous "I should drink more" statement.  

How could I not think of you tonight, Dear,  with tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat as your grandchildren made an ordinary miniature evergreen into a thing of beauty?   As you are reflected in them, so are you also in the tree--a comforting thought.

Thursday, December 22, 2011



A harvest moon reflects the brass plaque
honoring Jen and Nora.
I sit on the steel bench, also in their honor,
and try not to see the pond.
The now grown trees and shrubs that surround it,
the Cyclone Fence that circles it
keep it safe and innocent, and,
I wonder how anything so ordinary and irrelevant
could have caused such pain.

Water, at once our best friend and our worst enemy,
quenches our thirst, waters our crops, keeps us clean,
and destroys lives, as it did that night twenty years ago.

I walk to the edge of the pond,
see it, cold, brooding, calm,
and know what I must do
to restore balance to the world.
The coin I toss lands with a plop,
like a trout leaping for a Mayfly,
a much happier memory,
and ripples flow in the moonlight.

I have beaten it at its own game.
Then I pray.

John A. Bayerl,  November 3, 2009

This poem I wrote, a year before Gwen died, was a tribute to two high school  students, friends of mine as a school counselor, who accidentally drove into a pond that drained a subdivision and were unable to escape the car.   This was on the 20th anniversary of their death.  They were so young, still in their teens.  They were athletic and full of life, yet they left earth on that night.  In a way this puts into perspective Gwen's death.  She too was young, athletic, had much to live for; yet, she is gone.  That's the hard part to deal with; the seeming randomness of death.  Yet, for each of us, when it happens, it will seem random.  No one really believes it can happen to them.  Now I know better.  My faith tells me that life doesn't end, it changes. Until then, I remain faithful.  

Tonight, Dear, we went to your favorite Olive Garden.  We missed you.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011



The narcissus bulb
I planted a year ago
now sleeps
in cold, dark earth.

Beneath the ice and snow
it waits patiently
wanting only
to preen for me.

Its delicate petals
will open
and I will enjoy
its sweet musky smell
feel its taste on my lips
become one with its beauty
in the spring
when all is transformed--
hope fulfilled.

John A. Bayerl, December 21, 2011

 It seems somehow fitting to write about  springtime today; the longest night and shortest day of the year.  Tomorrow, we begin our march toward longer, warmer days.  Of course, there will be some ice and snow and wind and cold nights before we reach the longest day and shortest night in June.  Tonight I take comfort in she sheer predictability of changes in season.  

Yesterday I felt pretty happy all day because my children had arrived and they all did their parts to keep dad in a cheerful mood.  Today, although Mike Deann have left for a couple of days or so, it's been so enjoyable having Bob, Jeanne, Nick and Izzy filling the house with happy sounds. Jeanne, bless her heart, cleaned the refrigerator today.  I told her that hadn't been done since last year when a woman I hired to sit with  Gwen did it.  Those who know Jeanne will know that I now have the cleanest, most organized refrigerator in Ann Arbor.  She does everything well.

Also today I attended a wake for a woman who, at age 53, lost her seven-year battle with breast cancer.  Her mother and sister attended a caregiver group with me for three years; they were also former neighbors.  As I knelt before the casket with a beautiful young woman's body in it I was taken back to when I knelt and prayed for Gwen.  Surprisingly, it felt good to  reminisce about what seems like such a long time ago.  I also have this memory of Gwen kneeling and praying the rosary in front of her mother's casket.  As I knelt beside her I was so proud of her courage in doing what she felt was her responsibility and privilege, as the oldest daughter.

This morning I arose early and went to the gym, Dear.  While there I had recollections of being there with you, and I could see you walking on the treadmill, talking with me all the while. This overwhelming desire to have you there with me overtook me.  All I could do was  whisper your name and talk to you as I pedaled the elliptical.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011



The landmarks roll by
like scenes in a familiar movie
with its own set of memories.

What once was a beautiful home
has a lawn long since gone to hay
sagging roof
windows shattered and gone
someone’s flaming dream
now a slow fire.

Hog Island General Store
smoked fish
ice cold beer
all under one roof.

A sign in a farmer’s field
we always laughed at that one
easy for the one on top.

Naubinway, Beaudoin’s CafĂ©
good food, cheap
a great view of the Lake
we loved it
the kids hated it
no Big Macs and fries there

Dead tamarack swamps
give way to cedars
then pine
charred grass and tree stalks
where fire came through
last summer. 

All the beaches
Top of the Lake
National Forest Campground
it’s a hot day
let’s go for a swim
hang towels in the windows
change clothes in the car—
since we’re by our self. . .

We pass by
a lone man
on a bicycle
bags hanging everywhere
looking for somewhere
to spend the night—
as I am now
at home in winter

John A. Bayerl, December 20, 2011

These recollections are of one of the many trips Gwen and I took from Ann Arbor to the U. P. in the summertime.  Sometimes, when we were a young family, we would be in a station wagon jammed with luggage and four children.  No seat belt laws for children  then; they just found a comfortable spot and settled down. . .that is, until someone intruded on someone else's territory.   Later in our life we made the trip alone, just the two of us, enjoying well-earned peace and quiet.  It was a long trip, close to 500 miles.  We managed to break it up with stops at favorite rest areas, restaurants and beaches.  We knew the route by heart, and had no need for maps and itineraries, the landmarks along the way told us where we were and how much further we had to go to Birch Creek or Gaastra.

It will be nice to have all the children home this Christmas.  Mike and Deann arrived last night, Jeanne, Bob, Nick and Izzy will arrive today, and Anne will be in on Friday. We'll all get together with John, Amy and Brooke this weekend.  Gwen's presence will be everywhere.

They're only landmarks, Dear, but they were so much more than that when we saw them together.  You added meaning to everything in my life.

Monday, December 19, 2011



late in December of
my sixty-third year on earth,
I stood alone beneath the ironwood tree,
near the southern shore of Lake Superior.
in that awful silence
and the clean, crystalline cold
I heard the sound of snowflakes
arranging their warm, intricate patterns
on the withered, shivering oak leaves of autumn.

Preparing for angels.

John A. Bayerl, December, 2000

It seems appropriate to post this poem again in light of the season.  I wrote this when Gwen and I lived in Marquette, when cancer and being alone could never have been thought possible.  The poem is about a night in Gaastra when, after I partook of Bertha’s Christmas feast, I left the warmth of the house and the gathering of my new in-laws and went for a walk alone.  It was one of those zero-degree nights when snow fell straight down as the bitter cold squeezed every last bit of moisture from the air.  The world has a sense of awe at times like that; it is almost foolish to try to capture it in words. 

On that night I walked a short way into the woods behind the house; stopped beneath a tree, and heard the distinct sound of snowflakes, one-by-one, settling on dry leaves.  It is a memory that I cherish; the comforting solitude of that moment and knowing that all of the love I would need in this world was waiting for me in the house; in the presence of my new bride.

Later that night, Dear, we experienced the warmth of each other, and the cold world seemed so far away.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Sometimes a poem. . .

Marriage is a Bungee Jump

Marriage is a bungee jump off some box canyon
in Colorado, concession manned by a minion
from the fifties high on weed, beard he hadn't brushed
since high school. The ropes felt new enough

and he swore he measured them, the fall to the rocks
a lovers' leap eighty stories long.
He made us sign a waiver and pay in cash.
Folding the bills away, he slouched back to the shack

and high-fived a friend who passed the bottle back—
Done it again, like cupid. We heard a match strike,
the sizzle of hemp. We checked the ropes, the stiff knots
tied by someone who flunked that lesson in scouts.

We'd checked the charts, the geology of cliffs
and canyons, but no one knows which fibers split,
which granite ledges crack. On the edge of hope
for nothing we'd ever done, we tugged at the ropes,

both ropes, blessing the stretch and strain
with our bodies, a long time falling to the pain
and certainly of stop. Hand in hand we stepped up
wavering to the ledge, hearing the rush

of a river we leaped to, a far-off
cawing crow, the primitive breeze of the fall,
and squeezed, clinging to each other's vows
that only death could separate us now.
"Marriage is a Bungee Jump" by Walt McDonald, from Blessings the Body Gave © Ohio State University Press, 1998. Reprinted with permission

When I read this poem from Garrison Keillor's website it so resonated with me; especially the last stanza.  It takes a lot for a poem  to make me cry, but this one certainly does.  clinging to each other's vows that only death could separate us now.  Whew!!  Wish I'd been able to read this to Gwen some night before we fell asleep; "clinging to each other's vows". . .I can only trust that she's the one who sent it to me.  

This morning a very light snow is falling; I've been watching it gather on the bell outside the window.  There's absolutely no wind, so the snow just slowly piles up; on the bell it looks like frosting on a cupcake.  This will be a good morning for me to get some more Christmas decorations out and run to the mall for a few things I want to get. This almost feels like how I remember it would feel when Gwen and I did these things together. Can't believe I said I'm going to the mall.  Do it for those who love me, and whom I love in return. 

This can't help but be one of those blue and melancholy days, Dear; one of those days when I cling to you.  It will be OK when I get to moving out and about, preparing for the happy times ahead.