Lover's Key, Florida

Lover's Key, Florida

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Tuesday, May 31, 2011


It's been another nice family day.  Anne was with us until late afternoon when she flew back to Dallas.  Shortly before that Jeanne, Bob, Nick and Izzy arrived.  It is so nice and a great distraction to have people around the house doing what families do.  As I sit here, writing at the kitchen table they are in the living room watching a TV show.  Dare I say, it almost feels normal.  Yet. . . . there was that empty place at the dinner table.

After dinner I took great pleasure in dragging out the green garden hose and watering Gwen's Garden.  I can already tell that it is only going to become more beautiful as the flowers grow and reach their full bloom, not only this year, but for years to come.  Gwen's presence was very strong as I stood and admired the gift that Dick, Mary, Roy and Terri worked  so hard to create in the heat yesterday afternoon.

That sense of Gwen's presence was also very strong and real as I drove home after taking Anne to the airport.  Others I know who have lost a loved one tell me that their absence is often most noticeable in the car.  It's not uncommon for me, at times like that, to reach over to her seat, pat her on the knee, remind her that I love her.  It's hard to describe what that all feels like; for me, it's a peaceful sense of being off on another adventure with Gwen, in no hurry to get anywhere,  mixed with the sadness that comes from knowing that those days are gone. This poem tries to capture a little bit of that mixture of feelings:


There will be other seas
is the inscription we chose
for the stone that will mark
our existence.

We journeyed through life
together, an adventure on seas
that were sometimes turbulent,
often calm, always exciting.

Now she awaits on another sea
that is beyond any of my horizons.
She waits with a smile.

John A. Bayerl, May 22, 2011

I am grateful, Dear, that you left me the greatest gift of all in four children who remind me that family is love.  And, I am grateful, Dear, for those times when you return from beyond my horizons just to spend a little time with me.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Things to be thankful for and masks.

Today has been so special, and I am appreciative that so many of my friends and family went out of their way to help make my birthday a day I won't soon forget. I received countless birthday wishes from literally around the world.   I particularly appreciate my brother, Dick, and his wife, Mary, and especially my brother-in-law, Roy, and sister, Terri, who worked so hard in the heat of the day to make Gwen's Garden a reality.  And then there was daughter, Anne, who helped in so many ways and arranged a dinner at Webber's Restaurant where we met nephew Jason and his wife Amanda and nephew Tom.

Now we'll wait for nature to take its course and for the garden to bloom.  There's something so rightly symbolic about that-- like the plants that now must become established, send out roots, prepare to blossom, and bring some beauty to the world, those of who grieve are also in the same situation.  We find ourselves moved to a new environment, our previous home where we were established and just going along, living and growing, was suddenly taken from us, and now we must somehow survive the shock of being transplanted into a world we didn't choose.  Not only that, we must become strong and independent like we were before our lives were turned upside down.  Of course, not everyone makes it--some wilt in the heat of the sun and curl up and die.  That won't be the case with me or any of the many strong people I know who are determined to find meaning in a life where much of what gave it meaning has been removed.

Part of this process involves wearing masks.  Today at dinner I was happy as could be to be with those who love me, yet, at times I would catch myself staring into space at nothing.  Except, it wasn't nothing I was seeing; I was looking at Gwen, remembering the last time she and I had enjoyed a meal at that restaurant.  Was it rude of me to disrespect those who showed me so much love by not being fully engaged with them?  I don't believe so.  One of my grieving friends, Ginette, put it well:  the confusion between accepting all the love coming your way but feeling oddly alone - wanting more.  What pain and joy sits in your heart!  Those of us who grieve often talk about how we put on masks in order to function in social situations.  This is an anonymous poem about masks that I heard a long time ago:

Beneath the Mask

Masks reveal what they conceal.
By donning some masks but not others,
people disclose precisely
what they would most shield.

Indeed, a person does not hide behind a mask
so much as struggle beneath the weight of it.

Anonymous, circa 1982

It is a struggle, Dear, wearing the mask that says I'm happy when I still miss you so much.  I've always prided myself on being honest and open, and there's something about feeling as though I'm wearing a mask that doesn't sit well with me.  My fellow travelers on this road we didn't choose to travel will understand;  we beg the indulgence and forbearance of  our friends and family.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Silent Sunday


by Marian Olson:

Pain issues from a fractured soul,

the broken root of the tree.

Tomorrow new leaves and buds

will bubble out of the

 appearance of the dead branches,

 not because we stop grieving,

 not because we know how,

 not because we are worthy,

 but because that is the way of life,

 the grace of pulse for every living being.

Sent to me by a friend, Barbee Skorija 3-26-2011

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Waiting for WAITING

Another busy, eventful day.  This morning it was off to Caroline's funeral.  I was happy to see some of my old friends from the support group at CSC.  Frank seemed to be doing OK; I also got to meet his two daughters, it was particularly moving to talk with one of the daughters who is getting married in two weeks.  Caroline was a very caring and organized person, and I got the impression that she had prepared her daughter well for what has come to pass.  It was hard not to compare this funeral to Gwen's.  Frank told me that Caroline had wished to be cremated immediately, so a box with her ashes was there instead of a casket, and her ashes were spread in a memorial garden adjacent to the church immediately after the service.  The Mass and ceremony were quite simple but moving and meaningful.  It wasn't as difficult as I thought it might be, although I am still in a quiet mood from it.  I also ran into Alice, who sang in the choir, and her husband Jerry, former neighbors a long, long time ago.

After the funeral I received a phone call from my nephew, Kevin, who was at Saline High School where his seventh-grade son was playing in an AAU basketball tournament.  He asked whether I could join him, which I did, but not before I first went home and finished mowing the lawn during a time when the sun shone brightly.  I'm glad I did; it's raining again tonight.  Anyway, seeing Kevin and getting caught up on event in his life was worth the drive over.  As I was leaving I met an old friend and former colleague from my days at Community High.  She mentioned about how she remembered what a great relationship Gwen and I had and what a sweet person she was.  I said it was the wind in the parking lot that caused the tears.   On the way home I did a little shopping at a Walmart Store, and those blue feelings came back as I recalled shopping with Gwen at the Walmart in Marquette not so long ago.   I continue to struggle with my state of disunion. 

There are several things I have yet to do tonight, Dear, and a busy weekend still ahead.  If the weather permits we plan to do some work in your garden Monday.   I was going to include a poem, but I'm not quite ready to let it go yet, so it will have to wait. Ironically, I called it WAITING.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Flannery's Angel

Another Friday night; I don't think the time will ever come when Friday nights won't bring with them memories of Gwen's and my last time together.  Fortunately, Friday nights are also infused with memories of when we just relaxed and rejoiced in being able to enjoy being with each other.

It has been wonderful having Anne here for a while.  We had such a nice time with John, Amy and Brooke at dinner last night and today just got caught up on some TV watching.  She and her friend Sue left for up north this afternoon.  She'll be back Monday, and then Jeanne and her family will be here on Tuesday.  It's all good.

It has finally stopped raining, and late this afternoon I was able to mow the front lawn and part of the back.  There are still a couple of puddles in back, but no rain is forecast tonight, so I should be able to finish the job tomorrow.  Tomorrow morning is also our friend Caroline's funeral.

Recently I came across this quote, and find it to be appropriate for where I am at in life right now: We are born into a time not of our choosing; given a task not always to our liking, and we will find God there or not at all, for God is nowhere else.  In keeping with that theme, I also enjoyed this poem that was sent to me:

Flannery's Angel

Lead us to those we are waiting for,
Those who are waiting for us.
May your wings protect us
                           may we not be strangers in the lush province of joy.

Remember us who are weak,
You who are strong in your country which lies beyond the thunder,
Raphael, angel of happy meeting,
                                                            resplendent, hawk of the light.

"Flannery's Angel" by Charles Wright, from Bye-and-Bye: Selected Late Poems. © Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2011. Reprinted with permission.

It's been a busy day, Dear, but you were the first thing on my mind this morning and you will be the last thing I think of tonight before I fall asleep.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

On The Wings to Eternity

I'm beginning this tonight, Wednesday, but will finish it tomorrow. It has been a very rainy day, but the downpours have finally stopped.  It was raining so hard earlier that the lilacs in the neighbor's yard, in full bloom, looked like weeping willows--how appropriate.  One of these days I'll have to get the lawn mowed again.

 I also need to explain about the new picture I've added to my profile.  It's me standing in front of the Tree of Life at the Wellness Community of Southeast Michigan.  The "Tree of Life" is a piece of art on the wall at the Wellness Community.  It has "leaves" on it that have names painted on them.  The Community is a privately funded organization that offers a variety of free services to cancer survivors, theirs caregivers and their families.  The "leaves" can have the name painted in either gold or silver, depending upon the amount of contributions made in their memory.  I am proud that Gwen's name is in gold;  contributions in excess of $3,000.00 have been made in her honor.  Our daughter Jeanne rightfully asked whether her mother ever knew how much she was loved and respected.  We certainly did. 

I continue to feel very tender about Gwen today, more than usual.  She's very much in my thoughts.  I'm sure that Frank's news of Caroline's death has something to do with it.    And then later today I heard from my cousin, Joyce, that her brother died of cancer.  We grew up together in the U. P.  Damn cancer!

Back to the tender feelings.  There are times when I feel such a poignant sense of times we enjoyed together; sometimes it's long ago, when we first met, and at other times it's things that happened a year ago.  For dinner tonight I made a simple salad that she always enjoyed, and, as I was mixing it together I caught myself thinking about how much she was going to enjoy eating it.  I'll bet she did.  I have some music on now, Pop Hits of the 60s, and can recall dancing with her to some of the songs way back when,  but also enjoying listening to them with her just last summer.  Green fields was always one of our favorites--once there were green fields, kissed by the sun. . .Who couldn't fall in love dancing to that?

My friend, Ginette, in Canada, wrote this, she captures so well what it feel like when the one who was at the core of it all is gone and that sense of love going on remains.  I removed her last name because I don't wish to compromise her right to privacy:

On the wings to eternity ...

The night carried you on its wings to eternity
Let my words be your beacon between two worlds.
If you feel me distant, please do not search for me,
I am and will always be here,
Neither death nor eternity can prevent me from loving you.

I have promised you unconditional love,
It is for eternity.
In my heart I will gently hold you,
Until we meet again one day.

If you feel me distant, please do not search for me,
I am and will always be here.
I will love you for eternity.

Author:  Ginette

Mike called yesterday just to tell me that he is doing fine.   John and I are having fun working together on our class.  Anne is coming home today, and Jeanne and Bob and Nick and Izzy will be here next week.  Your name is painted in gold on all of our hearts, Dear; it will always be.


Wednesday, May 25, 2011


I finally figured out how to access my blog.  I hope no one asks me what I did, because, in my inimitable fashion, I just fooled around until it worked.  Maybe I should write it down in case it happens again; what I did was to Google my URL and voila!  Small victories.  I just read what I have  written and it occurred to me that if I had seen "Google my URL" ten years ago I would not have had the slightest idea what it meant.  Come to think of it, I'm not that sure now either.

In keeping with my new mantra: "If you aren't busy living, you're busy dying." yesterday was a busy one.  An hour at the gym, nine holes of golf, a totally great singing lesson, and a few more holes of golf.  Today it's raining.  Take it easy.  I did do some work on my class this summer; thanks to my friend, Tom, who sent me a ton of material, and son, John, the power-point whiz, it's starting to fall into place.  In the PPT John 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.  With all the destruction down south this week, it's hard not to think about what sort of surprises Mother Nature might have in store for us.

This is a poem for you, Dear, it puts things in perspective for me:


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

Even, maybe especially, on a stormy day; love shines in the world.

Monday, May 23, 2011


Last night, before going to sleep I began again doing something I had been in the habit of doing before Gwen died; I kept a notebook at my bedside and listed things that day for which I was grateful.  Yesterday there were many thing for which I was grateful, the great meal at Terri and Roy's house and being able once again visit with Jim and Marlene and Dick and Mary was certainly one.  When I returned home John, Amy and Brooke paid me a visit for a while; always fun; Brooke get sweeter by the day.  I heard from my online friend Ginette who is always able to give me another way to look at things, and even had time to finish my laundry.  Count your blessings.

This has been an unusual day.  The weather was great for golf this morning; even birdied a hole--a couple of triple bogeys took care of any boost that may have temporarily given my belief that I will someday be able to predict with a fair amount of certainty that when I hit the ball it will do something other than generally land somewhere in front of me.  I spent the rest of the day vacillating between feeling almost contented and at peace to moments when I could think of nothing other than how lonely my life is without Gwen is and enjoy a nice cry.  Sometimes, when I'm feeling edgy like that, it helps to go to the 5:00 Mass at St. Mary Student Chapel.  As always, it got me centered, and I wrote this when I got home:


I sit in church by myself
in the seats where we sat
together for all those years.
I’m reminded of  how,
after her mother died,
she would see her,
perched on a statue.

I stare at the modern Madonna
statue, no one appears.
There beneath the stained glass
window with my middle name
on it, the flickering flame of a candle
draws my attention, and I wait.

She takes her seat next to me
takes my hand, leans toward me
kisses me on the neck,
the cheek, then my lips
welcome hers, warm
and passionate as always.

I feel the familiar shiver
down my spine as she
 kisses my ear, softly
whispers that she must leave.

I am once again alone,
 an empty seat beside me.
For a while, she’s a little less gone.

John A. Bayerl, May 23, 2011

The first thing I'll put on my gratitude list today will be the nice visit we had in church today.  Each day I get a little more accustomed to my new version of reality, the one with the big hole in the middle where you used to be. I put a new picture on my blog profile today; the one of the two of us standing side by side on the beach in Naples, Florida, two or three years ago, I love those pictures where we are standing solidly together; exactly how we made our way through life and love.  

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Silent Sunday


One or the other must leave,
One or the other must stay.
One or the other must grieve,
That is forever the way.
That is the vow that was
Faithful, 'til death do us part.
Braving what had to be borne,
Hiding the ache in the heart,
One, howsoever adored,
First must be summoned away.
That is the will of the Lord,
One or the other must stay.

Printed in, May 15, 2011

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Saturday Steak

Tonight, as my friend Dave has taught me, I asked myself how my heart is.  The word that immediately popped into my mind was melancholy.  Part of it is the weather, the rain is back, and it's dark and gloomy.  But, hey, we have to rise above that--not so easy.  Gwen is always hovering in my thoughts, feelings and everything I do.  I just returned from taking a hammer back to my toolbox in the garage and was reminded of just a few short months ago when I would help Gwen out of the car and she would make her way up the steps and into the house.  She never liked it, but always accepted my help of that of one of our children if they happened to be around.  Such courage--I saw it then and even more now.

 This afternoon I found myself wishing I had some help so that I could rearrange the furniture in the living room.  I want to be able to see the hummingbirds when they come back, and the couch was blocking the view.  Then I remembered that the last time that needed doing I just did it with Gwen serving as an armchair supervisor.  Duh, you don't need help; just do it.  As I removed the cushions on the couch and vacuumed beneath them I was reminded of the many time Gwen had enjoyed having me rub her feet with lotion as she lay on the couch.  Gosh, what I wouldn't give to do that again; I never minded doing it, and she enjoyed it so much.  Such a simple thing that always brought us literally in touch with each other, the only thing better was a back rub, and, as the Gestalt Psychologists like to say, "one thing leads to another.  ."

It was also time to clean out the refrigerator, and I discovered a nice steak in the freezer.  The last time I made myself a nice steak dinner was on Valentines' Day, and I remember thinking that it was really stupid.  Tonight I didn't feel that way--just sad.  Being in the reflective mood that I am in tonight has led me to think about another conversation Dave and I had about how death is full of paradoxes.   By doing what I could to care for Gwen during her illness I was in a way giving her life, now that she is gone, I am writing this blog tonight, and in a sense she is giving me life.  He also quoted the Greek Goddess, Alectrona, "it is she who brings life to death and death to life."  A beautiful paradox indeed.  Even through death love gives life.

Dear, we used to talk about how we were the last thing on each other's minds at night and the first thing on our minds in the morning.  Death has done nothing to change that.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Hope Fulfilled

Today has been a bit of an exceptional day.  My friend Ed called around noon and invited me to play a round of golf--which we did.  When I returned from that son John came by and we had a nice visit plus he was able to fix a vexing problem with my computer.  Today the weather has been great, and, since more rain is predicted tomorrow, I took advantage of a break in the clouds to mow the lawn.  As usual, I find that to be not only good exercise, but also an opportunity to mediate as I walk behind the mower.  Today being Friday always has that sad/happy tinge to it.  Gwen died on a Friday, and as it gets toward evening memories of that come crowding in.  Fridays way back when were also days of happy reunion when I would drive from Menominee to Gaastra to spend the weekend with my beautiful girlfriend.  Today I felt her absence more keenly than usual.

When I had finished mowing the lawn is when the thing I have been hoping for happened.  I put away the lawnmower, planted a flower in Gwen's Garden that my sister Terri had given me,  filled the bird feeder and moved the hummingbird feeder to a what I thought might be a better location, and sat down to enjoy a cold drink and cool off in the evening breeze.  When I finally got settled into the lawn chair I glanced at the hummingbird feeder, and there it was--a hummingbird.  I knew it! I thought; Gwen is talking to me.  I recalled how way back in January I had a dream that Gwen and I were watching a hummingbird at that same feeder, and I decided it was time to begin writing this blog.  Gwen loved hummingbirds, and I had tried without success to lure them to our backyard, but that dream told me not to give up hope.  I didn't, and today there it was, a hummingbird.  It flew away, but soon there was another at the feeder, its mate no doubt.  It has been a long, long time since I've felt the way those hummingbirds made me feel.  I actually shouted out loud, YES!.  Then I cried tears of pure joy.  Whew!  not much more I can say.

To cap it all off, I received an e-mail message from my friend in Canada who lost her spouse about the same time as Gwen died.  I opened the attached video, fully expecting it to be a some sort of inspirational message, but, way better than that, it was a video of her sending me a comforting and encouraging message.  An inspirational message indeed!

Thank you, Dear, for being with me so clearly today.  Love does not die with death.

Thursday, May 19, 2011


Today has been one of those days when I've had a zillion insights.  Now I can't remember a single one of them.  I've been reviewing materials in preparation for the class son John and I will teach this summer. The Holmes-Rahe Life Event Scale is a paper and pencil instrument that is used to predict the likely occurrence of illness following stressful event in a person's life.  I hadn't looked at it in a while, and was dumbfounded to see that right at the top of the list was "Death of a Spouse."  Hmmm. . . .It's worth a hundred points.

Sometimes I attend a 5:10  Mass on weekdays; I did today.  Gives me a chance to get grounded and centered plus I have an awful lot of people to pray for.  My singing teacher was there without her fiancĂ©e, so I sat and chatted with.  She is really something, she has to be to get a man my age to stand in front of a mirror mouthing vowels.  Busy growing.

I wrote this a few days ago, it seems grim, but really its' an accurate reflection of what it's like for me to be getting old while getting used to not having my perfect partner at my side:


Yet another night
of dreamless awakenings.
Seeking satisfaction for my soul
I find only the relief
made necessary by
the demands of an aging body
lacking supple elasticity of youth

Tears that once flowed freely
are now gone,
leaving me dry-eyed
staring at images and
imaginings of our youth

Gone like the easy fluid movements
of bodies intertwined
that sought no release
other than that of blissful ending.

John A. Bayerl, May 4, 2011

I felt your love all day today, Dear.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011


Maybe it's the weather.  I heard today that for 24 of the past 28 days it has been either cloudy or rainy in Ann Arbor.  So, today was one of those weepy days.  This morning I noticed a pair of Gwen's reading glasses on a table.  I had lent them to one of my cousins this weekend.  This morning when I looked at them I just began to cry.  She was forever losing those glasses.  Later, as I put my hand on her urn and talked with her, the tears flowed again.  It wasn't anything important that I talked about with her.  Later, as I was driving over to my brother's home for a visit, I again had a conversation with her about something I've been thinking about a lot today, and those now familiar feelings of loss and loneliness bring on the tears.

On the bright side, I had a nice visit with Dick and Mary, including a tour of his garden in the rain.  I could see that in a few days it will be gorgeous.  One of Gwen's high school friends got in touch with me, and we finalized plans for a visit this summer when I plan to visit my sister-in-law in Gaastra.  Son John called, as did son Mike, it always cheers me to talk with them.  I've felt a real bond with each of my children since Gwen died.  All of these things are on the plus side of the sheet that shows what kind of a day I've had.  A couple of my former students at NMU who are now enjoying careers in school counseling and administration informed me that they will be near here to visit relatives this summer and I will have a chance to visit with them.  Put that way up high on the plus side.  A former colleague and friend who now teaches English in California sent me the nicest message.  The balance sheet is tipping and now shows a positive balance.

This is an old poem, and it is the totally wrong time of year for it, but I like its message:


Red, red maple leaves
on early October
white, white snow—
like blood on linen.

The overpowering beauty,
necessarily weakened by
temporary nature and incongruity.

The snow will melt,
the leaves will fall—
innocence lost again.

All will be new in the spring . . .

John A. Bayerl, October, 2002

I remember well, Dear, that ride we took up to Negaunee after an early October snowstorm. We stopped to admire a single maple tree in full fall color standing in an unbroken field of white. Two old, well married people kissed to show their appreciation of such a gift of God.  

Tuesday, May 17, 2011


This has been another of those days when I've been able to keep busy doing things I enjoy.  That always helps.  The morning started with a Story Time Players presentation at Ann Arbor Open Elementary School.  We're doing one more presentation in a week or so and then we'll be done for the summer--I'm going to miss those people. Right after I finished that I drove to the restaurant where the bereavement group I attended earlier this year has monthly reunions.  I am thankful that I've become friends with a lot of them, I wasn't sure that would happen initially.  We've gotten relaxed with each other, and no topic of conversation is off limits.  It's unique in that we share a common experience that gives us kind of a meta-language that makes it easy to communicate. When I got home from there I had an interesting telephone call that I'll talk more about later when I know more.

This afternoon I had another voice lesson.  She continues to be so patient and encouraging with me.  I have no illusions about my ability as a singer, but it's been fun to learn a lot about music in such a pleasant way.  It's part of the mentality that I think those of us who grieve have to subscribe to-- we can be busy living, or we can be busy dying.  I know what Gwen expects from me and, and it is fun to be doing something new, even at my age.

On the way home from the restaurant this morning this came to me, I hope it won't be misinterpreted:


Friends, relatives, acquaintances, neighbors,
ask me how I’m doing.
I think they want to know  
that I’m getting over the loss
of my beloved wife.
They know that their time is coming,
and they seek reassurance.

I tell them that I’m fine.

Some of them will ask
how I’m really doing,
and I say that they
don’t really want to know.
They insist.

So I tell them.

There are two of me,
the me I let you see,
that person is always fine.

The other me, the one
that only I see,
is fine most of the time,

but there are times—
there are times. . . .

John A. Bayerl, May 17, 2011

You've left an awful big hole in my heart, Dear, and I'll patiently continue filling it with things that are good for me for as long as it takes.  That's always been the deal, and I would expect the same from you if the situation were reversed.  As always, I continue to pray with confidence that the love we created and nurtured did not simply cease to exist at that moment when all the things we think of as so important became nothing more than background noise--you were hearing the real music.

Monday, May 16, 2011


There I was this morning, sadly saying goodbye to my delightful overnight guests at 7:30 a. m.  I had a tee time at 8:00 a. m. in the league I play in.  Turns out, it would have been far smarter for me to stay home and prepare a nice breakfast for them.  It would have been a horrible day for any outdoor activity, a strong north wind, temperature in the 40s, a downpour last night had created puddles all over the course.  Is it any wonder I had the worse score I've had in years?  I was hitting the ball well, it's just where I was hitting it that was wrong--in the woods, across the road, in the pond.  After each green the four of us would look at each other and ask if we were done yet.

The rest of the day was fine; spent some time at the gym, washed and dried bedding, watched some old family videos.  It's still awful hard to see Gwen in those videos, yet it's such a treasure;  doing all the things we did together with the family or on one of our trips somewhere.  Just hard to believe that she's gone.  At least it was nice to see her and hear her voice.  I don't think it's stretching things to say that she and I really enjoyed the special love that we were given, even though it may not have always been obvious.

Later in the day I was going into a store when I encountered a familiar person; a former superintendent of the Ann Arbor Schools.  I hadn't seen him in years.  We chatted and reminisced a bit; he's older than I, and lost his wife a few years ago.  Scott was always a classy guy, and he still is.

Gwen would often complain that I spent too much time with my computer; I thought of her as I was writing the poem the other day when I was waiting to have my car serviced at the dealer:


There are half dozen others with me
waiting for oil changes, tire rotations
wiper blades; things like that.

Strike up a conversation, pass the time.
 How'd the Tigers do last night?
Nothing but blank stares.

My fellow waiters
are all accompanied by a BFF.

They love their friends deeply;
I can tell.
They stare intently at them.
They just sit and stare.

No one says a word, almost rude,
the way they just stare
as they hold them close,
and gently fondle them;
mostly with their thumbs.

I dare not speak.

John A. Bayerl, May 14, 2011

Kind of a busy day tomorrow, Dear, Story Time Players in the morning, singing lessons in the P. M.  I had an interesting call from someone at the Cancer Support Community today.  Tom and Marge out in Phoenix say hello, Tom was a real BFF today, he sent  me some amazing resources and suggestions for the class at NMU this summer.  No Mozart tonight, and the Double Eagle Polka came up on the iPod again, time for a little cardiovascular exercise.  Wish you were here with me.  I really wish you were here with me. 

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Turn off the bubble machine.

Last night, after I had completed all my chores and was ready as could be for my company the next day, I decided that a good soak in the Jacuzzi bathtub upstairs might be a nice reward after a pretty good day.

Let's see here, I don't seem to have any bubble bath.  Oh, here's a big bottle of Aveno body wash;  a generous squirt of that should work just fine.  Turn on the bubble machine.  OMG! where are all those bubbles coming from?  They're up to the top of the tub, they're crawling up the clean white tiles, they're up to my neck, my mouth, my nose--is it possible to drown in bubbles?  I didn't know that bubbles can spill like water onto the floor.  It seemed like so much fun when Brooke and Nick and Izzy begged me to make more bubbles for them.  Sigh. . .time to turn off the bubble machine.  I can kind of sense Gwen watching all this and, after her initial annoyance that her klutzy husband is at it again, enjoying a good chuckle.  Careful now, you don't want to slip and hurt yourself, OMG! again!!  There are four inches of bubbles on the floor near the tub. Until now it never occurred to me that wiping up bubbles is an awful lot like trying to wipe up your shadow.  All's well that ends well, I'm clean, the bathtub is clean, the floor is clean, and the book I never got to read is soaked, but, hey, it could have been my Kindle.

That was last night.  Today has been a cold, rainy day, but having my two cousins from Menominee come to spend the night with me certainly brightened my day.  My brother and sister and their spouses joined us for a nice meal at a German restaurant we like and then home where I had dessert prepared.  Later we watched some old home movies I had found and had lots of laughs as we reminisced about them.  There were also the inevitable bittersweet moment when images of my sweetheart;  young, vital and more beautiful than ever were flashed on the screen.

In perusing the local newspaper today I was taken by this poem that was posted by a widow in honor of her departed husband.  It was not attributed to an author, but it sure describes what it's like to be the one who must stay:

One or the other must leave,
One or the other must stay.
One or the other must grieve,
That is forever the way.
That is the vow that was
Faithful, 'til death do us part.
Braving what had to be borne,
Hiding the ache in the heart,
One, howsoever adored,
First must be summoned away.
That is the will of the Lord,
One or the other must stay.

It was good to be with those who loved us tonight, Dear.  Your name came up often.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

A Good Saturday

Today has been productive, and, aside from the constant reminders that the love of my life is no longer waiting for me to come in from whatever I am doing, it has also been a good day.  John and Brooke came by for lunch; Brooke is such a sweetie,  how could I not love her?   I made grilled cheese sandwiches and potato-leek soup; pretty good if I do say so myself.  The lawn finally dried out, and I was able to mow it. It also reminded me that I still have much work to do in the gardens.  I also got some laundry done.  The best part is, I've had a bit of a sore back, and the things I did today, laundry, mowing the lawn, cleaning house, all made it feel better.

I've changed my mind about being a volunteer usher at UM football this fall.  One of the guys in charge called and asked if I could work as a supervisor in one of the new towers.  That won't be so bad, it's indoors, air conditioned, no one cussing me out because I tell them they can't bring a camera case into the stadium.  John and I joked that I could have name cards printed with my title: "Assistant Supervisor, Second Level, East Tower, THE BIG HOUSE."  Should be fun.

So today has been a pretty good day.  I almost hate saying that because it can all change so quickly.  Also, I have so many friends, literally around the world whom I love, and I try always to be conscious of them and their pain.  Grief is hard.

Today Brooke and I saw a bright red cardinal land outside the living room window, and we agreed that it was grandma paying us a visit.  Thanks, Dear.  As we said when we first decided that we were meant for each other, "you are the last thing on my mind at night and the first thing in the morning."   It's not always easy, but I'm doing it, being the strong person you want me to be.

Friday, May 13, 2011


This has been a run of tough days; Mother's Day, May 12 and six months, not only is it another Friday today, it's also Friday the 13th.  Not that that matters. Got some information about the class John and I will teach at NMU this summer during the third week of June.  Time to get that all organized; I have folders full of materials as well as computer files; just a matter of updating it and deciding what to use.  

Today I had lunch at Macy's with the friends from the old neighborhood.  They're good friends, always warm and welcoming, yet I still feel a little out of place with them. Lately I've been talking with friends who are in a similar situation to mine, and we agree that as time goes by the fact of our spouses' death is never far from our mind yet we find ways to function in world that has for the most part pretty much forgotten your great loss.  I'm lucky because many of my family and friends  tell me that they think about me and Gwen every day.  Yet, as happens each Friday night, all the memories of that Friday night in November come flooding back.  I am reminded again of the ugliness of cancer and the beautiful woman that accompanied me all those years.  Cancer had its ugly way with her, but her beauty survives in so many ways--her precious grandchildren, her children, her friends, her love of the spring in full bloom that I see out the window right now. This little poem came to me all at once:


Ugly has its own voice
I need never recognize it.
How can we not know its presence?
It is so tiresome.

Beauty, now that
gets all my attention;
it appears when it chooses
and leaves on a whim.

John A. Bayerl, May 13, 2011

Tonight I miss you more than ever, Dear; we'll talk later.  Right now I'm in the middle of doing some laundry, you'll be pleased to know that it's been quite a while since I shrunk anything or mixed a red shirt in with the white shirts.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Floating down the river.

Today marks six months since Gwen died.  There are those who choose to not remember these sorts of anniversaries.  For me, I have no choice; Gwen died on November 12, 2010, and the 12th of each month will always bring back memories of that day.  In spite of all the sad memories of that time back in November,  this is also an occasion to remember better times.

A friend and fellow blogger wrote in her post yesterday that for the first time since her husband's death she was able to visit a river where he and she would often sit in silence and enjoy each other's company.  Thanks, Ginette. That in turn reminded me of a canoe trip down the Brule River, on the Wisconsin/Michigan border near Gwen's hometown of Gaastra, that Gwen and I took early in our marriage.  Gwen's brother Ted and his wife Jackie accompanied us on the trip.  It's a long story, but the highlight of the trip occurred when we came to the first bend in the river and I managed to steer us near some brush.  From her seat in front of the canoe, Gwen, being the strong, independent, assertive person that she was, instinctively reached out and grabbed a limb, and in the fast-moving current the canoe promptly overturned, dumping the two of us and all of our food and other supplies into the cold water.  Ted and Jackie captured our canoe and we made our way to shore where we built a fire, dried ourselves and our clothing as best we could and continued down the river.  Actually, we had no choice, there was no turning back, and eventually we were able to enjoy ourselves in the warm sunshine.

So, what does this have to do with the death of my perfect partner six months ago?  To me, the parallel is obvious; on that day in November I was set adrift on a dark, cold, unfamiliar river without my friend for life in the front to help me steer and paddle.  There are other lessons I take from that misadventure long ago.  One of them is that, when the river runs swift it is a dangerous to hang onto the seeming security of familiar things, to do so can lead to disastrous results.  When setting out on this river it is also important to have friends and family along;  they will come to the rescue when the inevitable disasters do occur.  Finally, as much as I would prefer to paddle serenely in a shallow lake, the river of life flows relentlessly, and, while prudent navigation is always important, for the most part it is best to go with the flow, or, as the Gestalt Psychologist are fond of saying: "Don't push the river."

That's how it is with me today, Dear; you may no longer be up front paddling, but in so many other ways you remain with me, showing the way.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011


The weather has been great today--finally.  Temperatures got up into the 80s and after a visit to the gym and later the golf course I was even able to get out in the back yard to plant the other rosebush in Gwen's honor.  I was anxious to get the planting done because tomorrow promises to be not as productive or happy. . . it will mark the six-month anniversary of the death of my perfect partner. Plus, rain and storms are predicted.  In some ways I am still unable to get my head around the fact that the person did so much to make me who I am is gone.  Just yesterday I got home from somewhere and noticed the the lilacs  in the front yard are beginning to bud.  My first thought was to cut a bouquet of them and put them in a vase near Gwen's bed so that she would be able to enjoy their fragrance.  It's things like that.

This morning I was up early to take Anne over to the BCBSM Office in Southfield.  She left from there this evening to return to Dallas.  Mike also called me today.  He is in Houston visiting (and fishing) with his friend from medical school, Darrell, who is an ER doc down there.  I spoke with Darrell and he promised to take me out to dinner the next time he's in Ann Arbor, which is apparently quite often.  Another of the bright and happy things that happened today was a letter in the mail from Karen who was my secretary when I was at Community High way back in the 70s.  She had read the article about me in the memoir group that was in the paper a little while ago, and it was the first she had heard of Gwen's death.  She knew Gwen quite well then, and more recently we would occasionally run into her and her husband at a restaurant or other place around town.  She wrote a lovely letter of condolence, and I will respond to her soon. We used to joke that we were the only two sane people at CHS back in the day.

In honor of today, a bright and happy day, I finished working on this poem:


You promised that our wedding
would be  a bright and happy day;
a mirror of our entire life together.

Yes, it rained a little
on our bright and happy day;
a welcome sign of the
fertility and longevity
that we came to enjoy.

We kissed as man and wife;
the warm June sun
made clouds disappear,
we knew only tears of joy.

The reflected bright happiness of that day
bears me up each day now
when  tears of sadness, once feared,
have become welcome visitors.

 John A. Bayerl, May 3, 2011

I recently came across a card I gave Gwen on our 40th wedding anniversary.  In it I had written, "Forty years ago today was the best and happiest day of my life." You kept your promise, Dear, a bright and happy day indeed.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011


The highlight of my day has been my singing lesson.  The young woman I selected as a teacher is absolutely fantastic.  She's patient, encouraging and really knows a lot about singing.  Today we talked about breathing. There will be much incidental learning from these lessons. Breathe correctly, and it has the additional advantage of teaching me to relax.  

Today I also had this insight.  While I've been pondering what to do with myself, I've actually been doing it.  It's not my nature to just sit and do nothing; old as I am, I have to keep on growing. . .and I am.  So it's just singing and golf lessons now, but it's a start.  Today as I was driving to my lesson I felt excited,  and again I could sense Gwen's real presence. . .approvingly, she always was up for the next big adventure.  I also cried some as I remembered the singing at Gwen's funeral, particularly the song The Rose.  And, roses are once again making their presence know after the long, dark, cold winter. . .hmmmm.  Then, I remember, in two days it will be six months since my sweetheart left me.  It's a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach, grief is very real.

 I swept the garage floor today, all the accumulated debris from winter is gone.  Gwen hated  dirty floors, she would have been so happy with what I did.  She wasn't there to enjoy it.  I wanted to tell her about my singing lesson.  She's not only being missed, she's also missing so much.  In due time all these things will be straightened out, until then, there's this sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. . .

It's two days late, but this is a little poem I wrote about Mother's Day:


No one to spoil today,
no card, no cake,
no movie, no special menu,
just another quiet Sunday.

There must be something I can do.

Plant a rosebush next
to the Christmas tree.
Go on a picnic,
get outside, enjoy nature.

Ease the steady pain
celebrate the life
that was so special
to all who knew her.

Spoil her rotten.

John A. Bayerl, May 10, 2011

When I was leaving my singing lesson today over on North Campus, two deer came out of the woods behind the School of Music and gently stared at me.  It's not hummingbirds, but  I recalled how you always were so protective of deer.  It may have been deer, but they were more than that Dear--weren't they?  

Monday, May 9, 2011


Another beautiful spring day.  After 18 holes of golf, I came home and mowed the lawn. This evening I'll attend the spirituality group at the Cancer Support Community, and right after that pick up Annie B at the airport .  It will be so nice to have her here for a couple of night.  Tomorrow is a big day. . .my first singing lesson.  I'm excited and kind of scared, but, as I told Elise, my teacher, if not now, when?

Being in nature is healing, even if it's only on a golf course or walking behind a lawn mower.  I really do feel Gwen's presence when I am out of doors--she loved being in nature.  This poem tries to capture what it felt like today:


At the first tee I breathe
early morning air, and feel your presence
everywhere, smiling cheering me on.

The perfume of new mowed clippings
is the scent you chose to wear;
trying to impress me on this date—
reminding me of picnic plans
and private places at the lake. 

A proud mother leads a parade
of fuzzy youngsters to swim lessons
her eyes always on  me
keeping them safe from harm
as you still do for me.

A  young frog chorus boldly sings 
in the bright spring sun.
Not yet knowing about chanting
more solemnly at evening vespers;
today they are God speaking to mortals.

At the final tee,
above me a single sparrow
taunts and torments a black crow
as you attacked the black evil
that took the body
but not the soul that is with me here.

John A. Bayerl, May 9, 2011

It was a great date, Dear, and I didn't golf too badly either. Thanks.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Mother's Day

Some of my widow and widower friends observe something on Sundays called "Silent Sunday"; an inspirational picture is all that gets posted.  I may begin that soon.  For now, there's much I could say about this being the first Mother's Day without the mother or our children, and for that reason it is sad.  I pursue that line of reasoning and realize that in addition to Gwen, both my grandmothers, my own mother, Claire, Gwen's mother and my surrogate mother for a few years, Bertha, are all gone.  Then I remember two mothers who brighten my life immeasurably, the mothers of our grandchildren, Jeanne and Amy.  And again that phrase comes to mind, all will be well.  Happy Mother's Day, Jeanne and Amy.  I'd have gotten you cards, but as I would tell Gwen, you aren't my mother.

What also brightened my day was hearing from our friends/neighbors who lived next to us when we had the cottage on St. Joseph Island in Canad.  I also heard from one of their daughters who is beginning an internship in nuclear medicine at the UM Medical Center this fall.  If I can help her find somewhere to live and to get her feet on the ground it will be so rewarding.  So, I have that to look forward to with delight and anticipation.  Gwen was so fond of the whole family.

I felt kind of bad about not being able to go on a picnic with my brother and his wife and their son and his friend whom I adore.  But. . .I had promised myself that in honor of  Mother's Day I would plant the Christmas tree I've had in storage in the sun room.  It was time, it's beginning to show new, green growth. While out shopping after Mass I also picked up a couple of rosebushes.  One of them is a "rescue rose", just a tiny bit of new life showing; Gwen and I always prided ourselves on rescuing abandoned plants--they often tuned out to be the most healthy.  (No, kids, I don't feel that way about cats and dogs.)  It was good to be out of doors working on my planting project.  The Christmas tree is now in the ground; I noted that two ornaments had been left on; the birds will like them.  I only planted one of the rosebushes because I can't decide where to put the other one.  I had a place picked out but when I went to dig a hole for it I sliced in two one of the lines for the sprinkler system.  Ooops!  Gwen's not happy about that.

This is something I learned at church this morning.  There was a new young woman with the choir today.  She sang beautifully.  The guidance counselor in me never goes away, and I'm always anxious to get to know new people.  After asking her name, it went like this.  Me:  "So, are you a student at UM?"  "Yes," she replied.  Me: "Music's your major?"  "No," she said, "engineering."  Me:  "Oh, what area?'  She replied, "Nuclear engineering."   "Oooohhh," I said, "I'd have never guessed that."

Gwen loved it when I sent her roses for no particular reason.  Today I planted a bouquet for her.  In honor of that , I got out this poem and read it again; my sister read it at Gwen's funeral"

A Rose Once Grew

A rose once grew where all could see,
sheltered beside a garden wall,
And, as the days passed swiftly by,
it spread its branches, straight and tall.
One day, a beam of light shone through
a crevice that had opened wide –
The rose bent gently toward its warmth
then passed beyond to the other side.
Now, you who deeply feel its loss,
be comforted – the rose blooms there,
Its beauty even greater now,
nurtured by God’s own loving care.

(Read at Gwen’s funeral by Mary Grace Whitmore, 11-17-2010)

Happy Mother's Day, Dear, everyone misses you; me most of all.

Saturday, May 7, 2011


Thank goodness, it's a beautiful morning, bright sun, warmer temperature; good day to get the bike down and go for a ride.  Maybe this won't be a weekend from hell after all.  Dick's Choralaire concert is this evening, and I'll be driving over there while the Kentucky Derby is being run; won't even have to think about whether or not to watch.  It would have been hard without Gwen.  So. . . .that leaves tomorrow,  Mother's Day.

My friend Frank called me this morning, he does periodically.   Frank's wife has the same cancer as Gwen had.  They're about our age; we met them shortly after Gwen was diagnosed.  We've been together in survivor and caregiver groups over the years, and  would meet them at other events.  This morning Frank told me that his wife is now hospitalized and that, as he put it, "the end is near."  As he spoke I couldn't help but remember six months ago when I was going through a similar experience with Gwen.  It's a surreal experience, everything tells you that this woman you have loved for what seems like forever is nearing the end of her life.  Yet, you continue doing today what you did yesterday and the day before that and the day before than; you love her and care for her the best way you know how to do.  Then, one day, people you barely know tell you that she will soon die.  And, they are right, but you don't quite hear them, until it all ends.  That's where I saw my friend at today.  His mind knows the truth, his heart wants to keep the romance alive.  At least, that's how it was with me.  Frank needed someone to talk with, and I was honored that he chose me.  Before concluding our conversation, I told him to be sure to do two things:  Kiss your wife on the neck every chance you get, and tell her out loud that you love her; she will hear you.  And, ask her to let you know she's there when she get where she's going, she will do it.  Then a couple of old guys had a nice cry.

This morning as the bright sun streamed into my bedroom this poem came to me, I choose to see it as a message from my sweetheart:


The guitar, the one my son gave me
a couple of Christmases ago,
unused now,
stands in its rack, guarding
the door to her room.

I never played it well,
never will
the music gene, like the math one,
rolled off my plate
at the supper before my birth.

The love of my life
liked it when I’d strum a little,
pluck  a C and a G chord
“Play some more,” she’d say,
“I like hearing you play.”

Maybe, just maybe, it might be time
to take that guitar off the rack
plunk out a chord or two—
let the music begin—for her.

 John A. Bayerl, May 7, 2011

This weekend will be for you, Dear.

Friday, May 6, 2011

A Good Night

I've just gotten back from attending a concert with son John, and it's near midnight.  Sleep hasn't come easily lately, so perhaps if I stay up later I'll mange to sleep through the night.  The concert was wonderful, a singer/songwriter named Greg Brown. He has a cabin in the U.  P., talked and sang about trout fishing and lots of other things.  My favorite song was Let the Mystery Be, about not over-thinking things that are beyond our understanding.  Let the mystery be.  By chance we sat next to two women whom John had met in connection with his summer job in Dearborn.  They were quite entertaining, and nice to be with.  Yeah! I was out in the world, and I enjoyed it, even cracked a couple of jokes.

Early in the day I had another nice time with John when I met him for lunch at his school.  I met some of his colleagues/friends, and was again pleased at how well like and accepted he is by his peers.  Also spent a little time with his class.  Once again marveled at the diverse student population in his building, and remembered how Gwen and I had made the same observation when we visited with John on another occasion.  A final highlight was when encountered the counselor in John's building, a student whom I had taught in a counseling practicum while I was an adjunct lecturer at EMU.  She was so complimentary, and reminded me of the time I had taken her class on a ride on our pontoon boat when we lived on Baseline Lake.  Gwen was always supportive when I came up with hare-brained schemes like that; even helped out with food preparation and accompanied us on the boat ride.  Gosh, how I miss that woman and all she meant to me day in and day out.

Tomorrow and Sunday will be a challenge.  Tomorrow the Kentucky Derby will be run. Gwen loved horses (I should have bought her a horse.), and we both looked forward to watching the Derby on TV. In all likelihood I won't watch it this year.  Son Mike must have seen this coming because he sent me a link to You-Tube video about Secretariat winning the triple crown.  I remember writing about having the whole family home on Gwen's birthday, about a month before her death, and we all attended the movie Secretariat.

Izzy and Brooke have been sending me beautiful texts, Dear, the love you always showed them is being returned to me.  Thanks and good night.

Thursday, May 5, 2011


When I awoke this morning I was delighted to remember that I had a dream with Gwen in it.  She was in it, but I couldn't see her, she was somewhere in the background supervising things.  The dream was about tearing up one of my flower gardens and completely replanting it.  Some guy was there with some lilac bushes for me to plant and a lot of other flowers.  So, it's a start.  As time goes by I begin to realize that it becomes difficult to remember Gwen's face, voice, smile, touch, and smell.  I pray for a dream where I will be able to experience once again what my beautiful wife was like in real life.  Clearly last night's dream was about a topic that's been heavy on my mind; getting her garden started now that the nice weather is here, and she was there encouraging me.

Also today I visited again the cemetery where our grave sites are to see the newly placed gravestone.  Most people don't normally do that in the course of a day--go visit a gravestone.  I found it difficult, yet comforting.  Cemeteries are an important reminder of what my son Mike said about death:  "It is the most democratic thing there is."  Sooner or later, everyone gets to participate.  Seeing Gwen's name, date of birth and date of death carved into the stone was a reminder of a poem I found in her belongings and posted on February 7, 2011.  It was called If You're Ever Going to Love Me.  I mailed it to several friends and relatives, but I think it bears repeating, at least for me, having seen her name carved into stone today:


If you are ever going to love me,
love me now, while I can know
The sweet and tender feelings,
Which from true affection flow.
Love me now
While I am living.
Do not wait until I’m gone
And then have it chiseled in marble,
Sweet words on ice-cold stone.

If you have tender thoughts of me,
Please tell me now.
If you wait until I’m sleeping,
Never to awaken,
There will be death between us,
And I won’t hear you then.
So, if you love me, even a little bit,
Let me know it while I am living
So I can treasure it.


Found among Gwen’s belongings, January 5, 2011

The words we decided to have carved into the stone are I will find other seas, a line from a song that was sung at Gwen's funeral, Lord, When You Came to the Seashore. When our voyage in this life has been completed, we will indeed find other seas.

This reminded me too that on the day Gwen died I kissed her on the neck and whispered "I love you."  As she always did, she whispered back, "I love you more."  Thank you, Dear, for all these reminders of you today, and most of the tears were of the delicious variety.