Lover's Key, Florida

Lover's Key, Florida

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Thursday, June 30, 2011


Some nice things happened today.  Gwyneth, my friend from the on-line bereavement group, who lives in Baltimore, paid me a visit with her three teenage children.  Her daughter attended a softball camp at UM this week, and they are heading back home tomorrow.  We chatted, ate pizza and got acquainted a little.  I'll have to check the FB page later, there will be some pictures of our visit posted.

Later in the afternoon I played nine holes of golf at Brookside in Saline.  It was busy, and a young man caught up with me and played along the last six holes.  He is in his second year as a dental student at UM, and his mother is a guidance counselor in Adrian.  She was widowed eleven years ago, and it was interesting to talk with her son about how she has adjusted.  As he put it, "she's beginning to have fun again."  Let's see; in 11 years I'll be how old. . .?  Anyway, he was an absolutely delightful young man, and he could hit a golf ball a mile.  As I was leaving a young couple arrived.  My mind always takes me way back to when Gwen and I would enjoy doing things like that together.  Now it seems like it all happened so quickly, but there were layers and layers of years of good times spent together. It's another of those things that I would never have anticipated would happen after Gwen's death--that incessant longing for a time in our life when love was all that mattered.  It sounds kind of corny to say that, but the pain is real.

Yesterday morning, on my way home from my visit with Dave, I had breakfast at an Ann Arbor landmark, Angelo's Restaurant.  Whenever Gwen and I had a meal there it was special and we really enjoyed it:


Alone in the sun room at Angelo’s
I enjoy the cheddar cheese and broccoli
omelet that she always ordered.

My server’s name is
the month when the miracle
or our love
was first spoken aloud.

A young family
enters my private space,
I pretend not to mind,
but I do
resent their intrusion
into my sacred place.

It’s OK for them to be here
she whispers in my ear;
eat your raisin toast.

John A. Bayerl, June 30, 2011

 It's good to feel your presence, Dear, in all those places we enjoyed.  You always knew the right thing to say.  

Wednesday, June 29, 2011


My session with Dave went well this morning, I've felt particularly vulnerable and close to the surface lately, so it was good to get a lot of stuff out.  It's hard to imagine, but in my mind I know that some day I will look back at this time in my life, probably read some of the things I've written, and see in all of it the core of whatever stability I may have in my life at that time.  In my heart I only know that I must embrace the pain today if I am ever going to experience the joy yet to come.  Pretty heavy, but true.

So, the weather's been great, and I took Ed up on his offer to play some golf.  I got to the course early and played five holes before he arrived.  We then played 18 holes, so I'm pretty golfed out tonight.  Later in the evening my nephew, Tom, and his son, Sam, stopped by for a visit.  Sam will be living in Ann Arbor for a while, and the place where he is going to stay is practically around the corner from me.  What a great opportunity for us to get to know each other better, and Sam will be able to keep an eye on the house when I decide to go somewhere like I did last week.  My visit with Sam and Tom certainly made my day.

A friend from Baltimore who is in an online bereavement group in which I participate is in town while her daughter attends a softball camp at The University of Michigan.  She has also been to Grand Rapids where her son will enroll in college in the fall.  We plan to get together for lunch at my house tomorrow--I'm looking forward to it; we meet all kinds of really caring people in a chat room, and it is a rare privilege when we get a chance to meet them in person.

In spite of all the diversions, Gwen is never far from my thoughts and always in my heart.  From the very beginning we called it a miracle that we had found each other:


She knew me,
saw behind all the bluster,
the bluff, the guff;
knew the good, the praiseworthy,
the exciting ever new adventure
we called our life—together.

Each day now I grieve anew
that I no longer awake
to the miracle in my life
who knew me so well
and loved me anyway.

John A. Bayerl, June 29, 2011

John told me that today he and Brooke cleaned out the camper to "grandma's high standard."  As they completed the scrubbing and cleaning an eagle flew over the woods near their home.  As John said, "not too subtle."  I too felt your presence today, Dear; it was a perfect summer day, the only thing that could have made it better would have been for you to be enjoying it with me.  

Tuesday, June 28, 2011


I promised myself a laid-back day today, and have had just that.  Aside from finishing a little laundry, taking care of some bills, making a few phone calls and doing a little gardening, I've taken it pretty easy today.  I did have my singing lesson this afternoon and after that I attended a Mass that was said for Gwen's intention.  I also had a nice long talk with brother Andy and Cindy's sister, Isabelle, the master photographer.

I keep going back to what it felt like to be back in the U. P. last week.  There were many bright spots; teaching the class with son John was a rare and remarkable experience that not many dads get to appreciate.  Of course, had I been able to talk about it with Gwen, it would have been that much sweeter.  Seeing many former students and being able to spend time with staff members in the School of Education also brought back warm memories.  One of the highlights of my visit with Cookie and Bob was being able to sleep on THE WATER BED!  It brought back such great memories of  Gwen and me sharing that unique experience.

 I want always to maintain my connection with Gwen's family, and it was such a treat to spend time with Ted and Jackie and Jill and Tara, and,  most fortunately, T. J. was there with his family--the beauty of the baby's mother was surpassed only by that of the baby himself.  Then, of course, there was the dinner with Todd and Tammy that I've already written about.  In a couple of weeks I'll spend some time with Patti in  Gaastra, and I also hope to see Terry at that time.  I also need to mention that Jackie provided another highlight by preparing a meal that only a true Yooper could appreciate; pickle and bologna sandwiches on white bread and a desert of rhubarb crisp that was out of this world.

That was the good stuff, there were also many times when I found myself alone and had time to reflect on the difficulty of trying to figure out what life  AG will be like.  It still seems so wrong that Gwen and I could be enjoying life to the fullest now, but instead I'm writing this blog about what it's like to be without her.  I just don't know if I'll ever again feel that sense of oneness that came so easily with my sweetheart.  I'm getting pretty old that's the truth of it.  Meanwhile I miss her all the time; here's a poem about what that's like:


Make the bed,
fluff the pillows,
smooth the wrinkled blanket,
ready for another day.

Then the sadness settles in.

Is it that picture of her
in her youthful beauty?
The one that announced
the good news of our engagement?
Or the thousands of reminders
of her that assault me daily?
Or, simply the seven month
accumulation of delayed grief?

Who knows?
Who is to say?
What’s for sure is this;
the tears in my eyes
are the most real thing
in my world.

John A. Bayerl, June 14, 2011

Dear, it was much better when the most real thing in my world was the love we shared.  You know what I mean.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Eagles Again.

It's been good to be back home; golf this morning, then mowed the lawn this afternoon, did some shopping, read a week's worth of mail.  Then there are all the pictures and reminders of Gwen. . .

The trip to the U. P. was a constant reminder of how much Gwen and I shared and enjoyed being with each other.  When I was busy doing things or being whomever I was expected to be it was as though she was at home waiting for me to come tell her about my day.  There's a bakery called the Donut Hole in Marquette where I would always stop to pick up a raspberry filled Danish for Gwen on my way home from anywhere.  When I would pass it last week there was that instant where I'd reach for the turn signal and get ready to stop for a treat to bring to my honey.  Especially when I was in the car, I would feel her presence.  My friend who married my roommate at NMU and who is now also a widow tells me that she too feels those waves of grief when she is alone in the car.  A particularly poignant thing happened on Saturday during my drive to Iron Mountain.

I had spent the night with my sister, Cookie, and her husband, Bob, at their home in Menominee.  In the morning I went for a walk down one of the roads where they live in the country and as I passed a grove of evergreens a doe and her fawn stepped out into the road and looked me over carefully before bounding away.  I was already thinking of how I'd begin by saying "Gwen, you would have loved it. . ."   I suppose that part of life without the one who made my life complete will become less pervasive, but in a way I don't want that to happen.  We'll just have to let mature take its course.   Bob made me a nice breakfast of pancakes and then I drove to my cousin, Jim Jasenovsky's, place in Birch Creek for a visit before heading north to meet my friend in Iron Mountain.

I'll write more about the trip up U. S. 41 through Birch Creek where I grew up, then Wallace where I pitched many a baseball game, Stephenson where I enjoyed my first year of teaching while waiting impatiently for June 8 to arrive, the day Gwen and I married.  In Powers I turned onto U. S. 2 and headed toward Iron Mountain.  I have been recording my singing lessons, and, to help pass the time, I listened to the recording of my last lesson and sang along with it.  The last thing I worked on is a song called All Will be Well.    It has six verses, and I sang them all.  Just exactly as I completed singing the last word in the last refrain my attention was taken by a beautiful sight--an eagle drifted by overhead; it was so close that I could see its claws and beak, its white head and tail feathers.  "It's Gwen," I immediately thought.  Eagles were an important part of Gwen's mom's funeral as well as hers.  And, of course, the beautiful song, On Eagles' Wings, was sung at both.  There are those who will say it was just a coincidence, and perhaps it was, but I know what I felt when I saw that eagle.  I immediately had tears in my eyes; "it's her," I whispered.  And it was.

Thank you, Dear, for letting me know not only that all will be well, but also that all is well.  Still, I miss you.  

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Silent Sunday


It was always our favorite place to stop
there on the northern end of Lake Michigan.

It was so strange being there today
without her and Max.

The boardwalk from the parking lot
quickly takes me to the trail
to what was our  beach—
to all I once took for granted.

Max was the wonder, water dog
as he chased driftwood ducks
through the gentle surf.

My Gwen, pant legs rolled up
hands me her sandals,
wades, bends over, calls Max,
head held high, he joyfully leaps to her.

The sandy trail wanders through
the colors of early summer in Michigan—
poplar sapling hold hands with tiny pines
 green sea grass slaps at my ankles,
yellow buttercups nod
brown-eyed Susans stare at me
a tangle of purple sweet peas
and a bramble of rambling roses
hold my hand on my return to beige world.

The Prius seems so empty and colorless,
I even miss the panting wet-dog smell.
most of all I miss her fresh-air smile
and a kiss for the road.

John A. Bayerl, June 21, 2011—Summer solstice

Friday, June 24, 2011

You held me in your arms. . .

She held me in her arms; now I hold her in my heart.  Someone sent me that quote, and I repeated it over and over on my drive up to Marquette.  Now that I've been here a couple of days I find it more and more important to hang onto that idea of holding her in my heart.

I don't have to do some of these things, but I do because in the end it will be healing. . .tonight after John and I complete our teaching and met friends for dinner I drove alone to Presque Isle Park where Gwen and I dearly loved to walk or just drive slowly through, admiring the scenery and wildlife.  There is a place where there is about an eighty foot cliff that drops down to Lake Superior.  I could remember Gwen and me standing on the enclosed viewing deck and simply appreciating looking down at the tops of pine trees and out over the vastness of Lake Superior.  Those were times when words were neither necessary nor sufficient so we would simply enjoy a shared sense of awe and wonder.  Standing there tonight I felt that same painful sense of  longing and loneliness that has now become expected but still comes as a surprise--the acute feeling like the bottom has fallen out of my stomach.  When I drove out to take a look at the home where we lived for six years that same thing happened; that sad/sweet feeling.

This is all again part of that dual existence I often find myself living.  I enjoyed teaching for two days, it was comforting and rewarding to have son John as my "wing man."    After class several students commented to me that they enjoyed how well the two of us worked together.  Surely, Gwen had a hand in that.  My fears about not being able to concentrate, losing my train of thought, forgetting things and all the other things that could befall me were just that, fears that were unjustified.  It is great to feel once again that sense of competence and accomplishment.  So, there's that, John the college professor is alive and well.  Then there's John the man and husband who misses his wife. . .somehow that all gets covered up and the show goes on.  I can only hope that writing about it will eventually help to make the John  people see and hear congruent with the John I live with.

One of the students today invited me to a concert at a local church.  Two groups performed, one was a youth swing band from Sweden that is part of an exchange with the Blue Lake Performing Arts Center.  The other group was a local swing band that plays all the old songs like In the Mood, Blue Moon, etc.  I took her up on her offer and attended.  Their soloist on the trumpet, who was petty good, was 90 years old.  Inspirational. . .It was calming and relaxing and a pleasant way to unwind after a couple of days of being pretty fired up.  Of course, that other John was thinking how much Gwen would have enjoyed the performances, and more than once I reached out to hold her hand.

There are still all those moments, Dear, when I want to share with you so many of the things that have happened this week.  I don't know if I ever fully appreciated just how much I found comfort in driving home, knowing you'd be waiting there and anxious to hear about how thing went. . that, and did I bring you a jelly doughnut?  That is what I hold in my heart; it's way more than a nice memory--it's who we were.   

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

A homecoming of sorts.

Marquette welcomed me home with weather that matched my mood--the thermometer at the bank in Harvey read 46 degrees, the locals like the rain,  "you don't have to shovel it," one of them told me.  The ride up was filled with sweet memories of the many times I've made this trip with Gwen at my side.  Gwen and I and our dog Max had our places along the way where we'd stop to rest or just enjoy the view.  Gosh, how I missed that.  There were many tears.

John made it in safely early yesterday evening, and we then joined Todd and Tammy for dinner.  It was a pleasure getting to know them in a more relaxed manner.  As I told him more than once, in a loving way, Todd is certainly his father's son.  Tammy is the one I've never felt I knew very well, and we corrected that last night.  She is really a sweetheart; I hope Todd appreciates how lucky he is to have her.

When I returned to the room, John left to meet with a friend, and two of my former students called to tell me they were in the lounge and asked me to join them and their husband and significant other.  It's been a long time since I hung out in a bar, especially a noisy one, but I enjoyed my visit with them anyway.  They were two of my favorite students when they were enrolled in my school counselor training program.

I OK, but morning came early.  The day of class(es) went well.  I was particularly please with how well the afternoon session went, the one with administrators and teachers included in the audience.  John and I worked very well together and we've already been asked to return next year by the dean of the School of Education. We ended up with 35 students enrolled in our class, a number that pleased the dean immensely--they try to have at least 10 students enrolled.

After tomorrow I will stay in Marquette overnight, and then drive down to Menominee on Friday to visit with my sister, Cookie. I hope to be able to have a visit with Gwen's brother, Ted, on the way there.Then on Saturday I hope to drive to Gasstra to visit with Gwen's sister, Patti, before heading back home on Sunday.  This has not been an easy thing for me to do, but I am glad I did it. All day today former students who are taking other classes here dropped by for a visit.  They know I am a little tender now and need some loving, and I sure felt it.  My niece,. Jill, is enrolled in my class; she is really special to me for a lot of reasons, and I was sorry I couldn't spend more time with her.  Hopefully tomorrow after the class ends I will be able to visit with her.

The weather remained awful today, it was pouring rain most of the day.  It's finally cleared up a little bit this evening, but it's pretty cold.

This trip has evoked some poems that I need to work on a little more.  One of them will be about driving through tears, the other about a rest area.

I felt your presence in the classroom with me and John today, Dear, I know you were proud and happy.  Several of my students remembered you and reminded me of how I talked about our love.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Packing to go.

This posting will be brief; I've decided to pack up and leave for the U. P. this afternoon.  My intention is to stop at the Mackinac Bridge and get a room for the night; that way I won't have such a long drive.  Also, I'll stay at a motel where Gwen and I stayed a couple of years ago when we made a trip to visit her brother and sister.  It is important to me that I relive some of these experiences without Gwen at my side.  Sad, but necessary.

After golf this morning I went to another golf course where I worked as a volunteer at a golf outing. My assignment was to run the putting contest; no one told me what the rules were, so I just made them up as I went along--TEGWAR, the exciting game without any rules.  It was kind of like when we do the plate-breaking ceremony at family weddings.  It all works out in the end.  So, a pretty good day so far.

I thought about you today, Dear; but then I think about you all the time.  Today there was once again that edge to it, sort of an ache and wanting so badly to have you with me enjoying the day.  

Saturday, June 18, 2011

My heart and soul aren't functioning real well tonight.

Today I came upon an old VHS video taken back in the 1990s.  It contained two hours of memories, some of our family and some of a trip Gwen and I took to Windy Lake Lodge in Canada.  The Gerichs joined us for the winter adventurer in the Agawa Canyon.  The last part of the tape was of Christmas, 1989,  at our home on Eli in Ann Arbor.  One particularly poignant scene has Gwen and me comfortably sharing an easy chair while our four children did an impromptu showing of "Christmas Loot."  I think Dick will help me get that put on a CD so that I can share it with our children.  It is another reminder of my good fortune in finding a perfect match in Gwen, and my grief at losing her is matched by the joy in recalling the good times we shared.

Tomorrow is Father's Day, of course I'll miss my sweetheart pampering me a bit and promising the same gift she gave each year.  Our children have been particularly caring toward me, and tomorrow evening John, Amy and Brooke have invited me to dinner.  I think that will be the end of a gauntlet of days to be marked and mourned: beginning with Mother's Day, then my birthday, followed by our anniversary and the seven month commemoration of  Gwen's death.  Also in there were John's birthday and Anne's birthday.

I'll spend tomorrow getting ready for my trip to the U. P. next week and call that my Father's Day celebration.  It will be another step toward getting on with whatever my life will be without Gwen--she knew about it and was pleased that I would have an opportunity to do what I love.  

I have to quit now, my heart and soul just aren't functioning real well tonight and there's not much coming out of my brain.  I try to write something each day, but, although I will have my computer with me next week, there may be days when I won't have a chance to publish this blog.

I lit up the grill and cooked some salmon for dinner tonight.  It was such a perfect evening that I decided stay in the back yard to eat. The food was good, the rest of it pretty much sucked.  I'm getting accustomed to eating alone like that, Dear, but I will never learn to like it.  

Friday, June 17, 2011

Friday Reflections

Maybe it's the beautiful weather and the pleasure of being out of doors, on the golf course this morning I again felt a melancholy sadness that Gwen and I will never be able to enjoy the simple things of life that brought us joy.  Then, of course, it is Friday and all those memories associated with Friday nights come rushing back in.  Lovingly beautiful memories of greeting each other after a week apart.  Sadly beautiful memories of spending that last Friday evening with her. 

I am excited about heading up to the U. P. next week.   The six years we spent in Marquette were among the best of our lives.  I just heard from the woman at NMU who has been helping me that the class we're going to teach is very popular--30 students already enolled.  I'll bet there are some of my former students included in that number.  Should be fun, but, again, all those memories.

One more tough day to get through.  Sunday is Father's day.  I found a card that Gwen gave to me some years ago on a Father's Day.  It's just a greeting card, but these words bring me comfort, even now: 

Lookin back,
the thing I'm most grateful for is that,
years ago,
despite my youth and foolishness,
I managed to do a brilliant thing--
I fell in love with you.
It was something I've never regretted. . .
and I never will.

This is in recognition of Anne's birthday on June 15:

All these years later, Dear, I still feel so lucky to have found someone to love who always made me feel loved in return and found perfect ways to tell me of that love.  Makes me want to cry.

Thursday, June 16, 2011


I've been really tired lately, and tonight is no exception.  All-in-all, it's been a  pretty good day.  My golf lesson this morning went well; Dave is as gracious and patient as ever.  My appointment with Dave also went well this afternoon; it helps to have his expertise available  (I just noticed that my golf teacher and the psychologist I've been seeing are both named Dave.  Hmmm. . . .).  Today I got the nicest card from Andy and Cindy; another bright spot.

Yet, the sadness continues. There's a little anger mixed in too--anger that Gwen got gypped out of so much life, the diabetes was hard enough,  and then the cancer.  More than seven months past her death I continue to be reminded of what a brave, resilient person she was.  I feel gypped too; we did a lot, but there was so much more we wanted to do.  At times I feel such confusion and frustration as I contemplate a future without the best thing that ever happened to me, she was such a big part of who I was, my identity, and I feel so incomplete without her.  It was easy with her, come up with an idea and she was behind it 100%, "let's go" she would say, and we would go.  We narrowed the scope of our adventures toward the end, but just getting in the car with her wheelchair and heading off to the mall was as much fun as taking a train to New Orleans 25 years ago.  That's what I miss most of all, just doing things with her.

I'm wallowing in some guilt today.  Yesterday was Anne's birthday, and, although I did mail her a card, I got all wrapped up in my stuff and forgot to call and wish her a happy birthday.  Gwen does not approve, of that I'm sure.  I talked with Anne today, and she's OK with it, but still. . .

Today I read somewhere that the second six months of grief are in some ways harder because all of the things that need to be done in the immediate aftermath of the death have been done and there is time to reflect and confront the fact that Gwen is absolutely gone.  And, the rest of the world has been going on as usual.  The fact that some guy in Ann Arbor lost his perfect partner is merely a blip on that world screen. And then there are all the memories.  They are all beautiful, good memories and although they do bring some comfort, they also bring a lot of pain.  This is a poem about memories:


I lift the cover
of the pretty blue box
filled with Youth Dew powder.

Inhale once again
the sweet smell of her.

Breathe in memories
of her presence.

Feel her near me; a first date,
holding hands at the movies;
falling in love to a slow dance;
that first kiss, the first embrace
of a long-awaited bride;
remember how her kisses
had a smell all their own.

A pretty blue box
filled with memories;
a heart that holds them close.

John A. Bayerl, June 14, 2011

You truly were the best thing that ever happened to me, Dear, how could I not miss you all the time?

Wednesday, June 15, 2011


The sadness that has been my companion continues to haunt me, but I became proactive and did some things today that make me feel better.  I had forgotten something that I wrote about early on when I first began this blog: "When someone is grieving a deep loss, there is a period of time when psychology finds itself rather helpless. The pain of a death. . . .can trigger a paralysis that is not easy to reach into and dissolve. Psychology admits to limits here. Sometimes I think the poets and novelists are of more use in this than is pyschology. But, even there, they can offers some insight but I am not sure anyone can dc muchto take away the pain. There are some things in life befrore which we simply stand helpless."  And, "To overcome grief after a loss, try to love."  This was way back on January 11.  The first, long quote is from a psychologist named Antoine Vergot.   The second quote about trying love is from Fr. Ron Nolheiser.  Two things  now jump out at me in those quotes, the first has to do with simply standing helpless. Sometimes, before we can regain a sense of power and control, we must admit our powerlessness. This is certainly one of the "secrets" beneath the success of Alcoholics Anonymous.   The second has to do with the assertion that love will win out over grief in the end.

 One of the arborvitae trees that I planted in the back yard last fall is having trouble growing, and much of it is ugly brown and yellow.  I trimmed it, and it is no longer an eyesore.  Gwen's garden needed some weeding; I made her proud by doing it.  The lilac bushes were covered with dead blossoms, I removed all of them.   The big windows in the living room needed to be washed--not anymore.  It felt good to do productive things.

Later in the afternoon I met a friend from the bereavement group I attended early this year and we took a walk in Gallup Park and just talked about that awful feeling of helplessness in the face of the finality of death.  Somehow, just acknowledging that with someone who is going through the the same thing I am is healing in and of itself.  I had forgotten that.  At the conclusion of our walk we drove over to St. Mary Student Parish where we knew that a Mass was being said in memory of another friend's husband.  Today's date was significant because it was their wedding anniversary.  She was surprised and so pleased to see us waiting for her when she came into church.  Having gone through that whole wedding anniversary pain just a week ago, it felt good to know that Marie would not be alone.  I had forgotten; one of the best ways to deal with the loss of  someone whom I so deeply loved and who shared that love with me is to make that love real and alive again by sharing it.  At the part of the Mass where we exchanged greetings of peace Marie hugged me and said, "I love you, John."  It made me  feel more whole to hear those words spoken aloud;  I know that Gwen and I said them often, especially during her final days.  And it didn't have to be words; the way we treated each other was a constant affirmation of our love.  Just remembering all that has made me feel better.

The poetry, for me, is an important part of all this.  I'm working on a couple but they aren't ready to be set free yet.  It is encouraging to know that the words are once again beginning to appear.

I  see your hand in this, Dear, our love does go on.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Here Come the Grief Gods

Yesterday was a wonderful day.  The grief gods must have noticed; they smacked me down pretty good this morning.  I should have known, they woke me at 5:00 a. m.  This is not going to be a good day.  I made the bed, sat on the edge of it, and felt the waves of sadness overtake me.  I ask myself how this can be; I'm doing all the right things--taking golf and singing lessons, seeing a psychologist twice a month, getting out and doing things, taking part in support groups and services.  So why was it that this morning I sat there on the bed it all seemed so pointless?  I didn't have to think about these things when my perfect partner was with me, making life meaningful and interesting.  Deep in my heart I know that I have so much to be grateful for; loving children, sisters and brothers, Gwen's brother and sister, cherished friends in Ann Arbor, for goodness sake, even Gwen's high school friends reach out to me.  I try never to take any of that for granted.  On mornings like today all that seems to matter is that Gwen should be there with me; it's an empty, aching, feeling of loss and being lost.  Then I remember my promise to Gwen that I would keep on living and growing after she was gone.  That was so easy to do a year ago; I had convinced myself that it wasn't going to happen for a long, long time, then, suddenly it seemed, one day there wasn't another day with her.  Now that what wasn't going to happen has happened I must  live up to the promise I made to Gwen--some days, like today, I just don't want to do it; I don't know how else to describe it or define it.  But, I'll do it.

Today I did do a lot to fulfill my promise to keep growing.  I had my singing lesson in the morning, then lunch with an old friend, mow the lawn, and, in the evening I attended a Mass being said for Gwen's intention.  Finally, I had long talk with a widowed friend from the hospice bereavement group that I attended.  So, why do I keep looking at Gwen's chair, hoping I'll see her there?  Much as the long, grey, cold days of winter were difficult; these beautiful early summer days bring their own contradictions.  There is so much more to miss; long after dinner walks, watching Max frolic around on the shore of Lake Superior,  a quiet  time on the deck with a cup of coffee.  It keeps coming back to the ugly, brutal finality of death.

We'll get through this together, Dear, as we always did.  Sometimes it is darkest just before dawn.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Marvelous Monday

The funk I've been in lately lifted a bit.  Today was an exceptionally wonderful day filled with the love of family.  Brooke accompanied me at golf this morning, rode on the cart with me and won me the envy of all the other old guys.  She behaved  perfectly and chatted away all morning long.  Her duties included keeping score and helping put head covers back on my clubs, both of which she did admirably.  Following golf we had breakfast at a pancake house, and I was tickled as could be when Brooke ordered Mickey Mouse pancakes; just like the old days when Gwen would have been with us.  After a bit of a respite and TV time at home we capped off the day with a movie--Kung Fu Panda 2.   I even caught a bit of a nap during the movie, something that Brooke tactfully observed on the way home.  Before leaving to drive her home, she made a point of telling me to look at the kitchen table.  She had written me a note, short and to the point as lovingly as only an eight year old can do:  "Dear Grandpa  I had so much fun!  Love Brooke."   I caught myself being sad that Gwen wasn't able to be there with us, until I realized that  in a very real sense, she was there all day long.

This evening I attended the Spirituality group at the Cancer Resource Center.  It was a small group, just the leader, Debbie, and I, but  what we lacked in numbers we made up for with a quality dialogue.  Debbie also brought the sad news that Laura, the last member of the support group that Gwen started with five years ago, died last Thursday.  I just remembered that there is one other member of that group who had an early stage cancer and who is now fully recovered.  I saw Elanor at Gwen's funeral.  You think you'd be used to it by now, but it's still so hard to type those words "Gwen's funeral."  It's a strange phenomenon that I can conjure up a clear picture of each of those group members who died except for one--Gwen.  She needs to pay me a visit.

Tomorrow is my voice lesson, the last one for a while as I will be at NMU next week.  Deciding to have those lessons has turned out to be one of  the best decisions I ever made.  It continues to be a challenge, but is also rewarding in ways I never anticipated.  Probably the really smart thing I did was to pick a teacher who is so patient and understanding.  My only sorrow is that I won't be able to show Gwen what I've learned; she always liked it when I would plunk on my guitar or sing for her.

Dear Gwen, We had so much fun. Love, John.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Different Kind of Saturday

I spent most of  the day at the training for UM Stadium volunteers over at The Big House.  An old friend from Community High was there, and it was good to reconnect with him.  The only tough time was when he and I sat on a bench eating our lunch.  His cell phone rang, it was his wife; I listened to him exchange endearments with her and the vegetarian sandwich I was eating lost all its taste.  I remembered having done the same thing with Gwen in the past; once again reality set in and a cloud came over the sun--literally.  The young woman who is in charge of "Game Operations" at UM, and who conducted today's training session was a strong voice from the past--I was her guidance counselor in high school!

It is said that the second six months of grief gets worse; it does.  I find myself more and more talking with Gwen, telling her how much I miss her.  At times it all seems so pointless, going on, reconstructing my life, becoming the new "me without Gwen."  It is important for me to write about those feelings.  I am a bit hesitant to do so because I don't want friends and family to worry that I'm not handling this well.  I am; it's just that I have to own and embrace these feelings before I will be able to let them go.  Gwen wants me to get on with life, and I'm going to continue doing that the best way I know how to

 Soon I will leave to attend Brooke's dance recital.  I will be sure to tell her that grandma sends her love.

Tomorrow will be a commemoration day, Dear, seven months ago this evening it was just you and I as you set off into a life that has changed for you, as has mine.  I think of those words you once wrote in a card to me: someday I am going to miss you terribly. . .  


Friday, June 10, 2011

Another Friday

A friend of mine recently commiserated with me about how those of us who grieve encounter periods of time like the one I am currently in when the occasions to be sad and melancholy seem to multiply.  First there was Mother's Day, then my Birthday, then our wedding anniversary, and Sunday, June 12 will mark seven months since Gwen died. 

And then, of course, it's another Friday, bringing with it those complicated feelings of sadness as I recall Gwen's death on a Friday night along with sweet, loving memories of all those Friday night reunions with my perfect partner.  It was that way too when I played golf with a friend this morning; I so wanted Gwen to be there with me, yet find something like satisfaction in what feels like an almost forbidden longing for joyous times that are no more.  That probably doesn't make sense to anyone but me.

Today I came across a video of a camping trip we took with our friends the Gerichs twenty years ago.  We pitched our tents on a bluff overlooking Lake Arbutus No. 4  in northwestern Lower Michigan, and had the time of our lives.  I am always hesitant about reliving those old memories, but in this case I was so glad I did.  Seeing Gwen full of life, happy and clowning around once again validated the miracle of our love.  And, just hearing her voice. . .O. K., so I cried a little too. 

Tomorrow I have an all-day training session for my work as a volunteer at UM football games this fall.  Then, in the evening I get to attend Brooke's dance recital.  Should be a good day.   Then comes Sunday, the 12th. . .  We are expecting a full choir at the noon Mass, so that promises to  be joyful.

I miss you a lot tonight, Dear, and, you know what, tonight I'm missing your mom; I made one of her favorite meals, perogies and ham.  Wasn't much fun eating it without you here to enjoy it with me. 

Thursday, June 9, 2011


This morning I played golf by myself.  Sometimes I like doing that, just being out by alolne. Today was a bit more sorrowful, I had this nagging feeling that Gwen should be there with me, enjoying herself and the warm summer weather.  In a way, I suppose it is selfish of me to feel that way;  if she were somehow back with me, maybe she'd much rather be out shopping or at a movie.  All I know is that I get this feeling in the pit of my stomach that tells me how much I miss her.  It's a lot!

It cooled off quite a bit today, and I was able to get out to mow the lawn this afternoon.  After all the rain, now it's gotten real dry, and I almost feel like turning on the sprinkler system.  I can hear Gwen saying, "Pay to water and fertilize the lawn so that you can use gas that cost $4.00 a gallon to mow the grass so that you can water and fertilize it again.  Doesn't make much sense to me, John."  All I could ever weakly reply was,  "Curb appeal; maintain the value of the property."  "Then maybe you ought to wash the windows," she would say.  Gotcha!  She was so good at that, cutting through all the nonsense and getting to the heart of things.  We balanced each other so well;  she was the first to admit that she wasn't much of a poet.

This has been another of those days when all four of our kids checked in with me.  Gosh, they are good that way; they knew that yesterday was pretty tough.

In line with the sentimental feelings I've had about Gwen all day today, this poem seems to capture some of that:


Three men sit on couches near the piano,
where live elevator music is played
for the patrons of the fancy department store.

 The younger man looks bored
as can be, fiddles with his keys.
The middle-aged one has that
resigned look, wishes he were golfing.
The older guy, like me, has excitement
in his eyes as they follow his wife
smiling, waving at him down the escalator.
As for me, I face the truth—
that the time comes for all
when the one left behind
may not sit on those soft couches
while the piano man plays Sentimental Journey;
does not gaze at the escalator,
waiting for his heart to leap
when she finally appears.

 John A. Bayerl, June 4, 2011

This morning, just before I awoke, I had a dream where I saw you in the room, looking at me and saying something, Dear.  I didn't hear what you were saying, but the smile on your face was as beautiful as I ever knew it to be.  Just for an instant, but what a precious moment that was.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011


My attempts to treat today  as just another day have had mixed results.  I played golf all morning, and then this afternoon wrote some thank you notes.  It all fell to pieces when I looked up addresses on the list Gwen had so meticulously prepared and kept updated--seeing her handwriting and all the funky little ways she had for keeping the list accurate was simultaneously uplifting and heartbreaking.  How could I not dwell on the fact that today is our wedding anniversary?   How could I not recall our year-long wait for the magic date, June 8, to arrive; how often we wrote about it in our letters, talked about it when we were alone?  How could I not remember how beautiful she was, not just on that long-awaited day in June, but everyday thereafter?  How could I not remember playfully telling her that her anniversary gift would be the same as the one she received last year, and the year before, and the year before. . .?

Gwen saved the anniversary cards we exchanged over the years.  On our 40th anniversary my card to her began with these words, "Once upon a time two people met and fell in love. . .", and concluded withe these words, "I love what we've made together. . .I love you."  The words I added were, "Forty years ago was the best and happiest day of my life."

On our 45th anniversary Gwen gave me a card that had this verse from 1 Corinthians 13: 7-8:

Love bears all things,
believes all things,
hopes all things,
endures all things.

Love never ends.

She ended with these words, "Love, Gwen XXOO  I can't believe it!"  This was in 2008, more than two years after her original grim prognosis of six to nine months.

Yes, there are tears today, and memories of past tears.  Gwen told of how her Aunt Stella, one of my favorite people, cried each time she talked about our impending wedding.  In the days leading up to June 8 Gwen promised that if she cried on our wedding day, as she did,  it would be tears of joy.  "I'm bursting with tears!" she said.

This is a poem about tears of joy that I've been working on for a long time.  It is quite precious, even sacred, to me:


When you cried,
it made me love you more.

Written in a letter long ago
at the beginning
of a love that would grow
and sustain me to this day.

 Just an ordinary love
made deeper, richer,
by your tears,
when you said the words
that allowed
to enter your world

Tears not of sorrow
but of opening and easing,
of trusting abandonment,
making joyful our joining
 and all that was to follow.

John A. Bayerl, May 1, 2011

Happy Anniversary, Dear, in your words, always and forever.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Anniversary Eve

I think I'm ready for tomorrow; golf in the morning, work on some projects in the afternoon, and then at 5:10 I've had a Mass said for Gwen that I will attend.  I'm still mad that we didn't make it to 50 years.  The years we did have were great--all of them.

I spoke with my friend in Gladstone whose wife died suddenly last Saturday.  He is still in somewhat a state of shock and denial, so I was glad I made the contact.  We can support each other in the days ahead.

My singing lesson today was as interesting and rewarding as ever.  I had no idea there was so much to learn and that makes it pretty exciting.

I'm just babbling and not very focused tonight.  I need to quit this now and put some finishing touches on a special poem that I will post tomorrow.

You are deep in my heart tonight, Dear, as you were back then on the eve of our weddings.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Mixed Feelings

Today was another eventful day.  Golf league all morning; I wasn't really into it today although I played well.  The lessons are beginning to pay off.

All day I have had this sad feeling, it's funny how there are days like that, the sadness just overwhelms me at times.  I miss what Gwen and I had.  Anyway, I was further saddened to hear from Gary, a friend I graduated from high school with and also attended NMU with him.  He told about last Saturday, two days after his wife and he had celebrated their 49th wedding anniversary, he came home from a day of playing golf and found his wife lying dead on the bedroom floor. I can't say what he is going through, only that it hurts in ways that one could not have imagined.  I'll try to call him soon.

I did get some gardening done, and enjoyed it.  My newly befriended neighbor, Robin, was out in her garden again, and we had a nice chat.  Brother Dick had suggested that I convert a little more sod into a flower garden and that is what I did, planting some pretty little red and white Vinca.  Now, it's just a matter of time until all the newly planted flowers get established and begin to show off.

This afternoon I also made some good progress on a Power Point for the class at NMU later this month.  I'ts staring to fall into place nicely.

This evening I had been invited to the Cancer Support Community for a concert by someone named Charlie Lustman, a cancer survivor who writes and plays inspirational songs.  It is always hard going back to the Cancer Support Community, Gwen and I spent many enjoyable hours there, and made many friends, and there are so many memories.  But, as it turned out, I was so glad that I decided to go.  Several of our friends were there, and it was good seeing them.  Also, quite by chance, I encountered the parents of a former student at Huron High who were very complimentary to me about how much I had helped their daughter.  The concert itself was very nice; at one point he played some music and invited us to do some guided imagery, which I always find helpful.  The best part was when I took myself back to Oregon when Gwen and I enjoyed camping in our tent at the ocean.  I visualized our two young children then, John and Jeanne, being tucked away in their sleeping bags and sound asleep,   and then  Gwen and I sharing a sleeping bag--how peaceful and relaxing that was, all of it, the sound of the waves rolling in on the Pacific Ocean, the smell of the pines, and the pure bliss of being in the arms of the one I loved.

This Wednesday is June 8, our wedding anniversary.  It would have been 48 years.  More about that tomorrow, all I know now is that I am sad each time I think about it.  How we waited for that day to arrive.  I did have  Mass said for Gwen's intention, and will attend that and do some other things to commemorate that happiest of days.  Now, there's a load of clothes in the dryer waiting to be folded.

Thank you, Dear, for paying me that visit in the sleeping bag.

Saturday, June 4, 2011


It's been a long and busy day.  I'm sure I won't need any help from the Sleep Goddess when I crawl in bed tonight.  Bob, Jeanne and the kids left for Colorado this morning after a really lovely few days with me.  While I easily slipped back into my "being alone" routine, the quiet in the house is more noticeable than usual.

It seems like I have an awful lot on my plate lately--all good stuff; and, as I've said in the past, "better to burn out than rest out."   I'm thinking hard about the class I'll be teaching this summer with son John.  I have a timeline in my head for when everything has to be in place.  This week should be very productive as far as getting everything lined up is concerned.  It better be, there are only 18 days left until the class begins.

After Jeanne left I got the lawn mowed, it was pretty hot and sticky, but the grass is finally dry so it was a lot easier.  Then a  little more yard work; Dick gave me a great idea for the extra little garden I'm creating; I'm always amazed, though I don't know why I should be, at how generous he is with his time and talent.  I think he knows how much I appreciate all he does for me.

This evening, after only six and one half years, I  had an extended conversation with our back fence neighbors.  Their son and his wife were over with their six-month old baby daughter, enjoying the warm summer weather.  We leaned on the fence and chatted for a good long while.  They are really nice, and I'm glad that the opportunity finally presented itself when we were able to engage in something more meaningful that a cursory nod as we passed each other with our lawnmowers.

Tomorrow is son John's birthday, and I hope to spend a little time with him and Amy and Brooke. He was up north fishing this weekend, but came back tonight.  Also touched base with Anne and Mike by phone today; the family is intact.  Have to remember to call Gwen's brother Ted tomorrow, he called while I was out talking to the neighbors.

I recorded my last voice lesson, and tonight had a chance to listen to it.  OMG! I have some work to do. Elise, my teacher, made another step toward sainthood in my eyes with her incredible patience and encouragement.

This is something  whimsical that I thought about a little while ago:


Those nights when sleep won’t come
I would welcome a visit from her,
someone I’d call the sleep goddess.

She would tell me that everything will be fine,
then rub expensive oils into my back,
help me count the ways with Elizabeth Barrett Browning,
and sing The Tennessee Waltz
the way Patti Page did.

She would lie next to me
let me relax into her soft warmth
ask me if there’s anything else
I’d like her to do for me
before slipping off to sleep.

Yes, I would say to her,
it will take all your magic—
there’s this one thing. . . .

John A. Bayerl, May 10, 2011

I had no need for a Sleep Goddess when you were with me, Dear.  

Friday, June 3, 2011


It's been another busy day, and tonight I am tired.  It has been fun having Jeanne and her family back from their fun-filled day at Cedar Point.  Their excited chatter about the day's events added such a special dimension to the dinner table, and, though missing, Gwen was surely smiling on the whole scene.  The house will be much quieter tomorrow, but now I am more used to it, and in some ways I will welcome the solitude. Yesterday I wrote about how being alone is quite different from being lonely.  Being lonely leads to sadness while being alone provides solitude and serenity.  Another word for it might be quietude.

While the kids were gone I manged to play golf all morning with Ed, and then spent the afternoon doing some gardening work; mainly putting mulch in my gardens.  Yes, I do have "gardens" now.

I found an old slipper of Gwen's; just one half of the pair, but they were her favorite pair of slippers.  A poem popped into my head:


 My Cinderella left behind
one slipper, missing its mate,
sturdy buckskin, shiny with wear.

Storybook Cinderella left
a glass slipper, shiny with jewels,
worn only one time.

Glass breaks, as do hearts.

Like the buckskin slipper, old and worn,
 each day I learn anew
what it is like to be missing my mate.

John A. Bayerl, May 31, 2011 

We were a good pair, Dear, we were mates that matched.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

A Meaningful Day

Today has been meaningful.  It started off with a really neat visit with grandson, Nick, to have a lesson with the golf pro who has been helping me.  Nick seemed to enjoy it, and he said he learned some new stuff.  He starts playing in a league when he gets back to Colorado next Monday, so the timing was good.

Then it was home for a  while before heading off for my voice lesson.  Just before leaving Jeanne and I had what I considered to be a beautiful exchange.  Have I said before how blessed I am to have four children who "get me"?  As I sat here this evening a bright red cardinal landed on the bird feeder outside the window, I just knew it was a messenger from Gwen telling me that she too was happy with how well our children have responded to both my pain and my need for privacy at times.

Once again, my singing lesson was an exciting adventure into a world that I am slowly learning about and becoming fascinated with.  I told Elise that the only bad thing is that I probably won't live long enough to learn all the things she is slowly and patiently making me aware of.  It is good to do new things, no matter how old one may be.

After my lesson on North Campus I remembered when Jim and Liz and Max and Luna and Anna lived there, and had this urge to give Jim a call.  So, I did.  We had a great talk; it felt good to get reconnected with him now that he is out East.

My hour with Dave flew by; just too much to talk about.  There were some valuable insights today and a few great topics for poems.  Being alone is one thing, being lonely is quite another.

Tonight Bod and Jeanne and the kids are down in Sandusky, OH, where they will go to Cedar Point tomorrow morning and then be back here tomorrow night before heading back to CO on Saturday.  The house seems extra quiet with them gone. Tomorrow morning bright and early I have a tee time for 18 holes of golf, then back home to get to work on some things.

I watered G2 in A2 (Gwen's Garden in Ann Arbor) tonight and was once again amazed at the loving care that went into making it real.  Marlene and Jim will be happy to know that it is now dark and the angel with the lighted globe they contributed is glowing warmly.

Dear, you will be happy to know that I am learning to sing the song All Will Be Well.  I think of you and feel you near each time I sing the words all manner of things will be well. 

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Joy on the 17th green.

I've felt different today--more with it.  The weather helped, sunny and warm but cooler and dryer.  Perfect weather for golf, and I was quick to respond when Ed called to ask if I could get away for a round.  It was a great day to be on the golf course, and we enjoyed ourselves.  Then, there was the 17th hole. . .later.

I love my doctor, and today I had an appointment with her for my annual physical.  Before the poking and and prodding began, she talked with me about how the grieving process is going. And, it was just that, a nice talk, no sense of hurry or obligation.  She is definitely not one of those doctors who talk to their patients with one hand on the door knob. I was pleased, though not surprised,  to know that I am currently in good health. I have some labs to get tomorrow, but don't anticipate any surprises there.

Bob, Jeanne, Nick and Izzy and I had dinner at the Prickly Pear in downtown Ann Arbor--superb Mexican cuisine.  It was another of those firsts for me; Gwen and I enjoyed a night out there on more than one occasion, and there are so many fond memories of that.

When we returned home I got out my Townie bike and went for a ride.  Again, the evening was filled with memories of times when Gwen and I would go for a walk together--the smell of flowers and freshly mowed grass, after all the rains everything was new, the sound of the wind in the trees, and the taste of fresh air were all reminiscent of the many times when Gwen and I would go for a stroll after dinner.  As I rode along I had the insight that all of those walks in the past were with me tonight, and I could feel Gwen's hand in mine. I wish I could be more clear about this, it's the realization that all of those memories will always be with me and I can draw on them whenever I want.

Back to the 17th green.  My second shot was about a foot off the green and 40 feet from the pin.  Before hitting the putt, I took a moment to look about me.  This green is high on a hill overlooking the Huron River, Gallup Park and the hills beyond.  It was a particularly spectacular view today with everything in bloom, fresh and new.  As I lined up my putt I had this wonderful feeling of Gwen's presence.  I playfully said to her, "I can feel you there, Gwen; how about you give me a little sign?"  I hit the putt confidently, without hesitation and it tracked straight to the hole and in, dead center.  Gee, that  feeling of certainty is going to stay with me for a long time.

Thanks for the special moments with you today, Dear.  Topping a day of special happenings was the realization that since beginning this blog on January 9 there have been more than 5,000 views of it, literally around the world.  All I can say is that it's  humbling, and the many comments I receive are always comforting.  I continue to try to remain true to my original intent which is to honor a woman who led an exemplary life in a quiet, non-assuming way and made me always proud to be her husband.