Lover's Key, Florida

Lover's Key, Florida

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Saturday, July 30, 2011


All day today, while I was at the training for ushering at football games, I found myself thinking of Gwen; wishing she were waiting for me at home.  Getting in my car to drive home this afternoon there was that almost guilty feeling that there was really nowhere I needed to be.   The day went OK; people treat me a little differently now that I've been "promoted" to the position of assistant supervisor--they tell me things they think I want to know, ask for favors--I want to scream at them that none of this really matters, but I don't.  I have no way of knowing what ghosts walk with them. 

Tonight has been a good night for listening to sad songs, and that's what I've been doing in addition to finishing up the laundry I started this morning.  Here's a poem I wrote about it:


I think of her always

even while I’m folding clothes

the way she taught me;

except for fitted sheets,

she took that secret with her. 

It’s what made her perfect for me,

taking care of complicated things

like folded sheets:

here, John, I can do it,

she often said,

and I let her, and she did,

and my life was more complete.

Now she’s the fitted sheet

that some say needs to be

neatly folded away.

What am I to do?

The corners don’t match,

there’s a sag in the middle,

I don’t want to fold it neatly,

tuck it away in a drawer somewhere;

after all, the sheet sleeps with me

every night.

John A. Bayerl, July 30, 2011

Thanks, Dear, for leaving these memories of  you that now keep me going.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Doing fun things.

It's best to keep busy doing things I like to do.  Slowly getting my e-mail straightened out is taking a lot of time, and it isn't something I particularly like to do; part of it involves looking back at e-mail messages back to April, 2010.   It's amazing how "normal" things seemed back then.  This afternoon I decided to take a break from my chores and play nine holes of golf.  The course is still flooded from all the rain we've had recently, and it felt good to walk with a push cart, in spite of the heat and humidity.   On one of the holes I was amazed and delighted to have a hawk land no more than ten feet away from me.  I've never seen a hawk that up close.  I suppose some would call it coincidence, but I choose to see it as a messenger from Gwen.  As is often the case, I had been in a somewhat melancholy mood; wishing Gwen were there with me--seeing the hawk cheered me up immensely

Tonight was the big night when I went to see Ricky Skaggs in concert at  The Ark. There were no reserved seats, so son John volunteered to go early and get in line--what a good guy.  I picked up my grand-nephew, Sam, (I think that grand-nephew is the proper way to refer to the son of my nephew, Tom.) and we drove downtown and found John waiting first in line.  It was a beautiful summer evening, and downtown Ann Arbor was hopping.  All of the outdoor tables for restaurants on Main Street were filled to capacity. Thanks to John, we had seats in the front, center for the concert.  There's something so special about live performances, and the show was fantastic; especially being able to do it with John and Sam.  The more I get to know Sam the more I like him.  He is bright and sensitive, and this fall will be taking a poetry class at WCC.  I told him that I've written more than a hundred poems since Gwen's death, and suggested that at some point we may want to share our writing.

Tomorrow will be another busy day; I have an all-day training for my volunteer work as an usher at UM football games. 

The things I did today were fun and enjoyable, but not nearly as much fun as they would have been had you been with me, Dear.   I remember past times when we enjoyed shows at The Ark with our friends, and more than once tonight I found myself being thankful that son John was seated in the chair next to me.  Bluegrass music has some pretty sad songs about losing the love of your life, part of you was there with our son.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Secret Memories

There was a big storm last night, and the electricity has been out most of the day.  There are still issues with my e-mail account, and I spent all afternoon with Dick and Mary trying to get it straightened out; we hope to do so tomorrow.  I've noticed that when I visit with them it helps make Gwen seem not so gone.  The four of us spent a lot of time together, and those bonds are still intact. 

Riding in the car alone is still prime grieving time for me.  Today I took a different route home from Dick's because of construction; the route I took was one that Gwen and I would take when we lived on the lake; North Territorial Road, kind of a shortcut.  Today it was filled with memories of  times we shared, conversations we had, and the like.  It is important for me to do that sort of thing;  these are all ordinary things, but reliving them now makes them extraordinary.  As is the case, I think, with all loving relationships, the rest of the world only sees what the two of them choose to reveal--it was sure that way with Gwen and me, and I cherish the times when, sad though they may be, I am able to recall a little "secret" that only Gwen and I knew of. 

It was nice having you in the car with me today, Dear, sharing some of our little secrets.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Who Knew

So I had a 6:30  tee time this morning.  Apparently Ed hadn't seen the text I sent him, so there I was alone at 6:30 a. m.; ready for a morning of golf.  The starter asked me to join up with a couple of other guys, an X-ray technician and a nurse from UM Hospital.  They were very nice, kind of middle aged; and we got along well; in fact, as we were finishing up,  it made me feel good when one of them said he hoped we'd run into each other again.  Early on they were impressed when I bogeyed the first hole and parred the next two:  then the wheels fell off. . .

After golf I had a nice breakfast at Cafe Marie; a cute little restaurant with a French motif that is near the golf course.  It took some courage for me to go there; Gwen and I often met our friend Marian there before she died of cancer.  Gwen and I would also have a "romantic interlude" there every now and then.  The meal was great, and as I sat alone at the table I could feel Gwen's presence across from me.  It's so hard missing her actual physical presence.

As I was running a few errands I drove by the dealer where I bought my Prius, and stopped in to get an estimate on what it might be worth as a trade-in.  My car is in high demand on the used car market, and they made me an offer I couldn't refuse--I'm now the proud owner of a new Prius.  Yesterday I had AAA plan me a route for the trip I plan to take to Washington and Oregon two weeks from now.  I suppose at some level I wanted to make that trip with a new car.  I've been in touch with friends from when I attended graduate school in Portland, and also hope to be able to get together with my nieces, Mary Kay and Kathy, as well as my nephew Frank.  In a way, I suppose it will be good to get away from Ann Arbor for a while: I did that a couple times this summer when I went to the U. P., but this will be very different, and I'm getting excited about it.  I know three other guys my age who have done something like this; and they found it to be quite healing.  There's this growing awareness that I'm soon going to have to set some goals for how I plan to spend the rest of my life.  These were supposed to be the years when Gwen and I enjoyed travel and other adventures: no matter what, she will always be with me.

You'll be sitting in a new seat, Dear, but you will always be there with me.  My e-mail is still broke, I'll have to work on that tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

A Hard Day's Night

It's been a strange day, in a way.  I had a really nice time visiting with Dick and Mary earlier today when I brought my computer over to have Dick work on it.  It is always enjoyable spending time with Dick and Mary; they are so kind and loving.  We also had lunch together, and then I came home and did some work in the yard, trimmed the shrubs and the like.  Later this evening I played a few holes of golf.  It was slow going; a young couple caught up with me and we played together for a while.  That's another of those mixed emotions times; they were very nice and fun to play with, but then there's that longing to have Gwen there with me.  Also, the golf course is close to the nursing home where Gwen was last year, and I can't help but have memories of how she enjoyed having me spend time with her there and couldn't wait to get out and back home with me.  I just miss her a lot.

My e-mail is still messed up, so, I won't be able to be in touch with my friends tonight.

I do miss you more than usual tonight, Dear.

Monday, July 25, 2011


Another beautiful summer day in my back yard.  A cooler, dryer northwest wind rustles the red oak leaves as I look up at them, turned back white against the deep blue of  the cloudless sky.  We've had some rain, the lawn is now more green than brown.  The petunias I planted near the fence absolutely sparkle in the late afternoon sun. My next-door neighbor, home from work, gives me a cheery wave.  Haydn's String Quartet in C plays softly in my earphones. What could be more perfect that this?  How many of these moments were taken for granted as we pursued our busy lives?   And, I am grateful for the many moments we didn't take for granted; enjoyed to the fullest.  The sadness that touches everything I do since my perfect partner left me is in the knowing that we will never again share moments like this.

This afternoon I toured the UM campus with my sister, Terri, and her two grandchildren, now big teenagers, Devin and Dylan.  It was fun showing off my knowledge of all things UM: the Diag, the Law Quad, the Big House, North Campus.  They were seeing it for the first time: I was reliving memories that only Gwen and I shared.  Our very first visit to the UM campus was two months before our wedding when I was interviewed for the N. D. E. A. Institute that I attended and earned my M. A. Degree in counseling.  It seems so silly in light of today's standards, but we found it necessary to ask Gwen's parents for permission to have her accompany me on the visit.  As added insurance that we behave ourselves, we stayed with Ted and Jackie in Lansing and also paid Dick and Mary a visit.  It was, however, an awful long car ride from Gaastra to Ann Arbor. . .

Once again in my back yard, I can hear Gwen's laughter at these reminiscences: life was always fun with her, even when things weren't real funny.  Yesterday, I felt her presence very strongly as I was doing some chores in the kitchen:


I felt her near me today
in the kitchen
as I unloaded the dishwasher.

Gently smiling, approving
of how I’m handling things.

I cried as I felt
that wonderful moment;
she knows how I need  her
near me, now
more than ever. 

John A. Bayerl, July 24, 2011

Thank you, Dear, for your visits: reminders that all shall be well.  

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Silent Sunday

I mean no disrespect of Gwen; a good use for many of the golf balls I've found.  Please comment.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Hugs are forever.

Today I did some work in the garden; picture tomorrow.  It's been another hot day, I wanted to mow the lawn, but that will have to wait until tomorrow as the rain has now moved in.  Also did the laundry and some other chores around the house and yard.  It always feel good to be doing things, even though today there was some sweat involved.  When I awoke this morning I again had that strange feeling of non-reality that Gwen won't ever be here again.  I'm beginning to accept that, but still  struggle as I try to put together a life without her loving presence.  

Just looked out the window, and the sun is out again; think I'll mow the lawn.

It felt to get out and walk behind the lawn mower.  Part of me was thinking about what a sad picture I must make; this old guy mowing his lawn on a Saturday night.  Get a life!  As I was mowing the back yard, Dan, our neighbor came out and we shot the breeze for a while.  He really loved the work I did on the garden today; picture tomorrow.  Soon his wife, Robin, joined him, and he hugged her as they talked with me.  There's always that complex of emotions when I see that, some resentment that I no longer am able to put my arm around Gwen as she stands by my side.  (I've looked at many pictures of Gwen and me; in every one of them where we are together I am hugging her, and she looks as though she loves it.)  Yet, as I looked at Dan and Robin, I was very happy that they were enjoying and sharing the love that brought them together while they could--I always feel that way when I am around happily married people.  Gwen and I had our chance and our time, and we made the best of it.  I loved her the best way I knew how to do, and she did the same for me.  I mourn the loss of what we had, but also feel gratitude that we found each other and were able to fully celebrate the miracle of our love.

Don't know what got me so sentimental tonight, Dear, but it felt good to awaken and remember all the good times we shared.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Oh, Gwen. . .

Today has been an "Oh, Gwen. . ." day.  On these days I often hear myself saying out loud those word, Oh, Gwen. . .Sometimes I complete the sentence:  "I  wish you were here."  "Why did you have to go?"  Brooke asked me to wake her up early this morning so that she could scramble some eggs for me.  There she was, sound asleep, sprawled in bed, no longer the sweet young child Gwen knew, but now a pal who would share many secrets with her grandma.  Oh, Gwen. . .

As I am typing this a hummingbird stopped to sip at the feeder outside the window.  This is becoming somewhat of a regular occurrence.  Flitting about, always busy, suspended in  mid-air though sheer effort  and will, always beautiful--so like my perfect partner.

Our next-door neighbors, Bob and Bobbi, took me to supper (We left at 4:30, that's supper, isn't it?) tonight.  Another" Oh, Gwen" experience.  So many times we talked about inviting them over for a meal, but. . There's no point in stating the obvious: we ought to love the ones we love while we are able to do so.  Life as it is gets in the way of living as we ought.

I took a break from writing to drive downtown to the Ann Arbor Summer Art Fair.  Honestly, Dear, it was just no fun without you.  As always happens to me at the Art Fair, there's just too much to assimilate.  Tonight I watched peoples' eyes instead.  A line from an old John Denver song came to mind:  Lost and alone on some forgotten highway; traveled by many, remembered by few. . .The exit from the parking lot was across the street from the funeral parlor where they took you on a Friday night.  There were also those Friday nights when I would be pulling into your driveway about this time of day.  A hug and a kiss, one week closer to married bliss.  Oh, Gwen. . .

Thursday, July 21, 2011

A Grandpa and Brooke Day

Brooke has spent the day with me while her mom and dad are at a concert.  She has become so grown up lately, and talks my arm an leg off.  We hung out at the house for a while, then went to a meeting of Story Time Players, where she critiqued a couple of stories we'll read to elementary school students next year with the candor and genuineness that only an eight-year old can provide..  Then it was off to the movies; Winnie the Pooh.   Home again for little while, and then  off to a meeting/reception at the Cancer Resource Center where a new venture was being introduced .  A bridal shop where donated wedding gowns will be sold at reduced prices and the proceeds going to the Cancer Resource Center.  Brooke also handled this with her usual charm.  It was an emotional time for me as I saw many people whom I hadn't seen since Gwen died.  Of particular interest was Eleanor, who was in Gwen's original group of 12 survivors. She is the last living member of that group.  She had an early-stage cancer that was treated successfully.  She and Gwen and I had special affinity, and I sure cried when she and I talked and brought each other up-to-date.  The last time I had seen her was at Gwen's funeral.

Brooke and I then had dinner at a Red Robin, but didn't enjoy it much because the air conditioning wasn't working very well.  Now we're home enjoying a  little TV time before calling it a day.

The hard part about today, Dear, was knowing how much you and Brooke enjoyed spending time together.  It's that familiar, lonely feeling that you ought to be here enjoying watching your granddaughter grow from a little girl to a charming, caring and responsible young woman.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Rock and Rivers and Lakes

"It's as though a giant boulder on the bottom of a fast-moving river has become dislodged and rolled away.   Now, the gaping hole left behind is slowly being filled with sand and silt carried in the river current."  I wrote these words on November 26, 2010, two weeks after Gwen died.

On my return to Gwen's childhood home last week I was reminded of how often things we did were done on or near bodies of water.  Gwen's dad and her brother, Ted, taught me to fish for trout on the pond in front of Barney's cottage.  First we fished with bait, then spinners, and finally, with a fiberglass rod that now looks like a bamboo pole when compared to the light-wight, graphite rods now in use, they introduced me to the art of fly-fishing.  (Our two sons, John and Mike, continued that fly-fishing tradition by becoming expert at tying their own flies and even making bamboo fly rods.  In that sense, what Ted and Barney inspired in me lives on through them.)  I first experienced the thrill of catching native brook trout on Barney's Pond.  Later, we would fish the Brule, Paint and Iron rivers, mastering the skills of fishing in a fast-moving river. Now I have come full circle as I no longer fish, but try to fill the deep hole left in my river of life by the death of my rock, my perfect partner.

It wasn't just about rivers and fishing.  We enjoyed all day canoe trips down the Brule River and picnics and outings at Chicaugoan Lake.  Later, we camped at the lake in the summer with our four children.

I remember with great clarity one hot summer night two months after we were married.  We were spending the weekend with Casimir and Bertha at the cottage, and decided to go to the lake for a swim late at night; over Bertha's protest that it was too late and that it was dangerous to swim at night.  We enjoyed cooling off and discovered a new intimacy in being alone in the moonlight in the lake.  On the way back to the cottage we took a side-trip down a dirt road to have a look at what Joey Schmidt's pond might look like in the moonlight.  Nature took its course, and I now keep that precious memory of young love in full bloom.  (It's probably at this point where our kids who may be reading this are reaching for the phone and getting ready to tell me that this might be getting a bit too personal.  To which I reply: If not now, when?)

You were always the rock, the solid boulder, in the sometimes fast-moving river of our life, Dear.  Each day, ever so slowly, the hole you left behind is being filled with the ordinary events of daily living.  There will never be another rock  like you.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

A Warm Summer Day.

It's another hot day.  On a day like this I like to write in my notebook in the shade of the big old Red Oak in the back yard.  In spite of the heat, it's pleasant sitting here in the shade with a soft breeze blowing.

Earlier, my sister, Terri, called, and, as I was talking with her, I looked out the window at a bee balm plant that she and Roy had planted in Gwen's Garden on Memorial Day.  Yup! There was a hummingbird, feeding on the nectar of a its blooms.  I suppose it could be called a coincidence, but to me it's always a miracle when one of these messengers from Gwen arrives.  It makes me feel happy inside.

My neighbor, Dan, just came out to water his flowers.  he's an absolute golf nut, and I enjoy talking with him about the game.  I asked him what he does for a living.  Fro 30 years he's been a radon  mitigation consultant.  I've often wondered whether Gwen's cancer may have been radon-related.  According to Dan, there is an uncommonly high incidence of radon-related cancer in the U. P.  It takes hold in the lungs and then  reappears 40 years later.  I realize that I'll never know what created the evil disease that took away the love of my life.  And, even if I were to know for sure--so what?  She's not here with me enjoying the summer breeze that just came out of nowhere and the beautiful flowers that are beginning to bloom in her garden.

Thank you, Dear, for sending me a little message.  It helps.

Monday, July 18, 2011

It's how I feel.

It was supposed to be a stormy evening, but so far nothing seems to have developed.  I'm afraid that further north where son John lives they may have gotten the worst of it.  The weather matches my mood lately--stormy and a little bit unpredictable.  Today a woman called from a charitable organization, seeking, I assume, a contribution from me.  When I  answered the phone the first thing she did was to ask whether I might be Gwendolyn.  I'm afraid I didn't treat her very charitably.

If I keep busy I don't miss Gwen quite as much.  (Maybe that's why I enjoy writing this blog so much.)  This morning I had my best score of the summer in my golf league, yet, my happiness about that was diminished when I found myself wanting to go home and tell Gwen about it.  "You should do better," she would say, "it seems like all you do lately is play golf."  Then she would smile and say how happy she was that I was finding time to do something I enjoyed.  Just as she never felt guilty about the demands her illness placed on me as a caregiver (The words were "in sickness and in health."), she also wanted me to never feel that I didn't deserve having opportunities to get away and do things for myself.  If that's not love. . .

Today I did some laundry, and, as I was hanging some shirts in the closet a visor came tumbling down from a shelf.  It was just a plain white visor with the logo of High Pointe Golf Course on it.  Many years ago our nephew, Kevin, was a pro at that course, and he gave the visor to Gwen.  I picked the visor off the floor and saw Gwen wearing it when we golfed together, and, most memorably, when John Gerich and I won the Washtenaw County Crochet Championship and she and Elise got all dressed up in summer whites.  That now familiar feeling in the pit of my stomach comes once again.  Some say it feels like fear, and, in a way it does.  To me it's like the feeling I got each time one of our children began college and we left them waving goodbye from the sidewalk in front of their new home.  On the ride home Gwen and I would talk about how each time this happened it was another hole in  a life that would never be the same.  It feels like that; only a thousand times worse

On the bright side, I spent time with John and Brooke this afternoon when they helped me bring a car to the garage for maintenance.  Things got even better when I was asked to have Brooke spend the day with me while John and Amy attend a concert.  As is the case with each of our grandchildren, Gwen is with me in a special way when I am with them.

I know you want me to keep busy, Dear, and to find things I enjoy doing.  The keeping busy part is easy; enjoyment still takes some doing

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Saturday, July 16, 2011

All is well.

“Out of the quarrel with others we make rhetoric; out of the quarrel with ourselves we make poetry.” — W.B. Yeats

That old saying about "when the student is ready, the teacher arrives" was never more true than when I saw this quote in a message I received from American Public Radio. 

 It feels good to be back home in familiar surroundings; the trip back was uneventful (Driving south on I-75 at 10:30 p. m on a Friday night makes even the most trying construction lane shifts a snap. I arrived home before midnight and was able to get a good night's sleep.  This morning I'm enjoying the view outside my living room window.  I no longer drink beverages with caffeine in them, and am leaning to enjoy mint tea--it's hot and has a flavor to it that is not totally repugnant.  It's going to be a hot, sticky day; it even looks hot outside my window this morning.  Robins are strolling through the grass rather than flying.

Back to the quote.  I've always enjoyed driving, and driving alone has never been a problem for me--I find it relaxing and it gives me time to think.  Way back when Gwen and I moved to Portland, Oregon, for a year I drove our 1963 Ford Galaxy loaded with all our belongings by myself.  Our daughter, Jeanne, had been born two week earlier, and Gwen stayed with her mom and dad for two weeks before flying out to join me.  My trip to the U. P. was sort of like that trip except that the joyous reunion with Gwen will have to wait for a while. I've jotted down many notes about remembrances along the way, and will write about them later.  One of the most powerful experiences I had was visiting the motel where Gwen and I spent our wedding night.  The pictures and poem say it all:


The tears I drive through.
arise at each bend in the road,
each link to a beautiful past,
times we shared, things we did,
all gone now
like the crumbling motel
that shared our pleasures of the moment
and dreams of the future.

John A. Bayerl, July 16, 2011

Don't you just love that it says Color TV on the motel sign?  The motel may have crumbled. Dear, but the pleasures and dreams go on and on.  When I attend the funeral this afternoon it will bring back sad memories; a sign that you are with me.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Change in Plans

I'm at a McDonald's in Iron River.  The event last night went very well, I met a lot really nice people, childhood friends and classmates of Gwen's; all with great, loving memories of Gwen that add to my feeling of gratefulness that we found each other and enjoyed a long and lasting love.  Perhaps this visit will help bring some closure.  It's always the little things--McDonald's has a sign out, Vanilla Cones 49 cents.  That would have been a twofer for Gwen, we often enjoyed one of those cones, and 49 CENTS!

Now the sad news.  One of the e-mail messages I received this morning told of the death of Don Parrish, a fellow parishioner at St. Mary and also a former colleague at Forsythe Middle School.  Don died of brain cancer, and throughout his illness I often met his wife, Sally, and did what I could to comfort and support her.  His funeral is tomorrow afternoon, and, after some consideration, I have decided to leave Iron River this afternoon and get back to Ann Arbor in time for his funeral tomorrow afternoon.  I remember how important it was to have the support of friends at Gwen's funeral.  Luckily, I have been able to accomplish what I set out to do here in Gasstra, and it is time to get back to life A. G.

I know you want me to do this, Dear, Don and Sally were always showed us such love and concern during your illness.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Gaastra Update

Just time for a quick update.  I played golf this morning at a course connected to the casino in Watersmeet. I'm in the lobby where there is a free Internet connection.  I't certainly been a happy/sad time for me.  Last night I attended a Yooper concert, and met a lot of people who knew Gwen.  It's been wonderful being able to spend time with Gwen's sister, Patti.  As I though I might, I have this overwhelming sense of Gwen's presence--in a good way.  I've been jotting down notes about various places and events that bring back memories of things Gwen and I shared.  Just sitting in this hotel lobby saddens me; the last time we were here was a festive time with her family.  All the while I was playing golf this morning I had this feeling that she was back at the hotel waiting for me.  I so wanted her to be sitting on the golf cart with me.  She would be happy that I have no interest in the casino itself.

There's so much more to write about.  I found the motel in Crystal Falls where we spent our wedding night.  It is now abandoned and a sorry sight.  I took some pictures and plan to do a posting about it.

Tonight I'll attend a social fundraiser with more of Gwen's friends.  In a way, it might be a mistake to be doing this--I feel as though I'm "eavesdropping" on a life Gwen had before we knew each other.  However, I do feel a sense of obligation to thank her friends for the care and concern they showed during Gwen's illness as well as after her death.  Not surprisingly, everyone I've met speaks with such respect and admiration about Gwen and tells me what a sweet, wonderful person she was.   But, I knew that all along. . . .

It has been wonderful being able to feel your presence here, Dear, especially as I am reminded of places and things we did that only we knew about.  It is comforting to realize over and over again how genuine love doesn't die.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Eight Months

I deliberately kept myself busy today, but it has still been a hard day.  Gwen died eight months ago, and memories of that night as well as tons of reminders of what a sweet and loving person she was have been with me all day.  There isn't much more I can write at this time; I face it and get through it.

Tonight I have decided to pack up the car and head for the U. P.  I am going to spend a couple of days with Patti and some of Gwen's friends.  I'm still trying to figure out how to feel about this venture.  I will be great to see Gwen's sister, Patti, and her friends have promised to warm me with their memories of her.  Yet. . . .we have fifty years off history up there, some of which only she and I would know.

I'm not sure whether I'll have Internet access up there, so it may be a few days until I get back to writing.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Being Alone

"Anything we fully do is an alone journey."  This statement by Natalie Goldberg, the author of a book I recently read, caught my attention.  It's similar to something a professor I once had, Dan Fullmer, said when, during a lecture,  he asked, "Is being alone the ultimate identity experience?"   At the moment Gwen died I began feeling alone.  I am lucky--I was surrounded by our children, my brothers and sisters and their families, my sister-in-law and my brother-in-law and their families.  And, of course, I have countless friends who have gathered around me.  Yet, there are times when I realize that I am entirely alone.  The first time I felt that way was shortly after Gwen's death when I awoke one morning and found myself wondering what I might find to do until it was time to go back to bed.  Each day there are times when I still get that sense of being alone.   This sounds self-pitying, but it isn't.  What it is an acknowledgement of the fact that someone I loved for 50 years and who was always at the center of our life together is no longer there.  I had no idea how difficult and painful it would be to simply acknowledge and accept that reality.    And, as Ms. Goldberg correctly states, it has to be an alone journey. 

 I am so grateful for the presence of my family and friends; I love them dearly and try to show it in as many ways as I can.  Yet, the majority of my time is spent alone.  I may be in the presence of others, yet there is always the recognition that is just me, not me and my soul mate.  I felt this recently when I attended a lunch with friends and former neighbors and their spouses.  (A couple of them didn't have their spouse with them, but they were somewhere in the world waiting for them.)  It's hard to describe what that feels like; I've talked about it before, it's as though there are two of me, one of whom is fully present in the conversation and other activities and the other who is longing for the presence of the loving person he should be there with.   I get up and walk away by myself.  For an instant it feels as though everyone is staring at me; then I straighten my shoulders, stand tall and feign interest in the latest offerings from Brooks Brothers.  That's the part where identity becomes important and I accept another little part of  who I am becoming.

I know I'm on the right track in looking at these things, Dear, even though I imagine  many people who are not in similar circumstances to mine might want to just say something like "get over it."  (No one has ever said that to me, nor do I have reason to believe that any who know me would say it.)  Tomorrow will mark eight months since you left me; the love we shared isn't something I  can just "get over."  It's not that simple.  It's not a coincidence that Softly, as I Leave You just came up on my i-Pod.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Silent Sunday


She told me she loved me best of all.
She was such a sweetheart.
Best of all, she was my sweetheart.

John A. Bayerl, May 1, 2011

Saturday, July 9, 2011


I love sitting at the window and watching the birds cluster around the bird feeder. Gwen loved it too, she loved nature and the out of doors.  Such fond memories of her.  I wrote this poem about it:


Missing the one who flew through life with me
is like the birds at the feeder outside my window.

The monochrome grey of grackles,
an occasional flash of cardinal red, the breast of a robin
the exciting gold of a finch; then
the grey and brown returns with the sparrows
flitting and fluttering about, alive and lively,
but still, so grey and brown,
searching only for the seeds of another day
of happy living.

John A. Bayerl, July 4, 2011

Our friends from U. P., Al and Mary, are in town, Dear, I had breakfast with them this morning; we had a great time reminiscing.  Am I the luckiest guy in the world, or what?--to have former students like Al and many more who have now become good friends and such an important part of my support network.  There is a certain  sadness too when I remember that the first time Al and Mary visited us in Ann Arbor we had lunch at the Cottage Inn; a place that is now sacred in my memory because it's where we had lunch with many of our friends after our final farewell at St. Mary Church.  

Friday, July 8, 2011

A John Day

It's a beautiful evening; I'm in the back yard, writing in my notebook.  It's sunny and warm, there's a cool northwest breeze.  Birds are everywhere; I've just refilled the feeder--doves, robins, grackles, red-wing blackbirds, sparrows, gold finches, a red cardinal, off in the distance an owl says he gives a hoot about this evening.  This is just about as perfect as it gets: except, you know who isn't here to enjoy it with me.  I'll never lose that sense of loss and longing.

This morning I played 18 holes of golf.  Then it was off to Macy's lunch counter for the monthly gathering of friends and neighbors from the old Forestrbrooke neighborhood. After that, nine more holes of golf.  Guess you could say it was a "be good to John" kind of day.

There are the old memories.  Forty some years ago I would have finished another day at my summer job as a handyman for Consumers Power, cleaned up, gotten into my two-tone 1958 Chevy, and headed north to Gaastra; soon to be greeted by the love of my life.  It sounds corny, but even now I can feel the excited anticipation as I looked forward to her kiss and embrace.  I don't know if that kind of story could happen anymore in the modern day of fast cars, e-mail, cell phones and text messages.

Our neighbor, Robin, just came out to water her flowers.  She's so nice.  I wish Gwen could have met her.

My thoughts take me back to eight months ago.  It was a beautiful evening like this one, late in the fall.  "I'll be waiting for you," she said when I told her I'd like to play a final round of golf before winter set in.  She asked for a little morphine, and soon drifted off to sleep.  After golf, I returned with her new favorite thing, a pineapple/mango smoothie from MacDonald's.  We shared and enjoyed it, and then, her cough got worse. . .

After all those Friday nights when she welcomed me, on that Friday night she would be welcomed to the place where she now awaits me.

 At lunch today, Dear, as is always the case with that bunch, the women sat together and talked about whatever women talk about at Macy's lunch counter, and the guys sat together and talked guy stuff.  One of the guys mentioned how much he disliked shopping with his wife.  I wanted to shout at him: "Please, ask her to go shopping with you right after lunch.  Soon enough, like me, you will give anything to have her at your side as she tries to decide which blouse looks best on her. Love her while you have her!  (On the way into the store today I saw a blouse that would have looked perfect on Gwen.  And, it was on CLEARANCE.)"  But, I didn't say anything: things don't mean anything until they mean something.

Guess I'll go in the house now.

Thursday, July 7, 2011


Since Gwen died I have spent an awful lot of time reminiscing about our wonderful and beautiful first years together--from the time I first met her in Marquette to our  exciting moves around the country--from the U. P. to Ann Arbor, to Wisconsin, to Oregon, back to Michigan, Flint this time; back to Ann Arbor--all of this within the first five years of our marriage.  Oh, and Gwen worked for a year at the Veteran's Hospital in Ann Arbor and also bore three children.  An awful lot of great memories to cherish.

Every now and then I catch myself wondering whether I might be stuck back there and refusing to face the truthful reality that it is now the year 2011 and I am faced with the task of creating  what I now call "Life A. G."; Life After Gwen.  But, no, I'm not stuck there.  I also reminisce about the past five years; difficult as they may have been in  many respects.  We  were able to spend that time taking exciting trips around the country--to our Ed and Rosa's condo in Florida, a bus tour to Washington, D. C. with Ted and Jackie, a stay in Arizona with Mary and Milt, trips to visit Anne in Dallas, Jeanne and Bob and the kids in Colorado, Mike and Deann in Pennsylvania; a visit to St. Joseph Island in Canada, spending time with Ted in Rock and Patti in Gaastra; to say nothing of many parties and celebrations with John and Amy and Brooke, and I'm sure there are other things I've forgotten.  And then, there were the trips only she and I knew about. . .    Yes, I enjoy thinking about our passionate youth, but I enjoyed every bit as much recalling a different kind of passion for living even during the time when Gwen fought her brave battle against cancer.  Even today, just walking up the steps from the garage to the kitchen door brings back warm memories of how resolutely Gwen  fought to take those steps on her own right up to the end.

There were "big" things we did together, but, maybe more difficult to let go of, are the many day-to-day pleasures we enjoyed.  This is a special poem that I wrote on that topic:


It’s the simple pleasures
that are missed the most;
like reading aloud in bed at night.

We might begin with a little book of meditations,
she would read one side of the page, I the other.
Then we’d talk a little.

After that we became friends
with a young woman from Sweden;
the one who smoked too much,
drank too much coffee,
hacked computers,
had a dragon tattooed on her back.
We got to know three books worth of her
I wanted there to be a fourth
hoped it might last forever.

I rub her back and read,
her eyes close—
Is it time to quit?
Read a little more she says.
The chapter ends,
pull the blanket up to her chin
tuck her in tight,
kiss her on the cheek,
smell her fresh cleanness,
tell her I love her,
I love you more, good night,
she whispers.

Simple pleasures adorned
our last adventure together,
we hoped it might last forever.

John A. Bayerl, July 4, 2011

Big adventures or small pleasures, we enjoyed them all, Dear.  I miss that.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011


Yesterday at my singing lesson, Elise, my teacher, said something that made me pause: "if you don't know what your're supposed to do, you can't be expected to do it."  To me, that exactly describes what it was like when the woman I loved for 50 years died.  I didn't know what to do.  I'm gradually becoming aware of what I'm supposed to do, little pieces of the puzzle are revealed each day; one day it's to smile at a pleasant memory of Gwen, another day it's to remember that our love did not die, today it took a different track; remember that it wasn't always sweetness and light, there weren't always birds chirping and hearts floating above our humble abode.  Part of this healing process will involve coming to grips with those moments also.

More to follow; I'm off to a potluck backyard picnic with members of the caregiver support group that I attended during all of Gwen's illness.

The potluck was fun; in some ways that all seems so long ago and part of a different world.

Recently someone, either my brother or my sister suggested we attend the German Festival that's held in a park, appropriately called German Park, near Ann Arbor.  We haven't attended it in a long time, but I am filled with shame and remorse when I remember the last time we attended with my brother and his wife.  Early in the evening, something Gwen said angered me to the point where I left here there and drove home.  That still bothers me; it embarrassed me, but even more it must have made Gwen feel just awful.  I don't recall that I ever apologized in words for acting that childishly, but I know that I made some adjustments in my life that brought Gwen and me closer together shortly thereafter.  The path of true love is not always strewn with rose petals.  My good fortune is that Gwen never quit on me, even when I acted horridly.

 I'm sure I could look up research on the grieving process and find that little of what I have experienced since
Gwen's death is all that unusual; after all, every second of every day someone else is joining the ranks of those who mourn the death of a loved one.  Arbor Hospice sends me a monthly publication with articles about what to expect in the grief process.  I read the articles, but with a sort of resentment.  It is always a generalized description of a specific experience--mine.  My experiences and emotions can't be generalized, they are who I am, and no one else on this planet is now grieving, ever has grieved, or will grieve the loss of my perfect partner who graced me with her presence for fifty years.  So, strange as it may seem, I don't read  or  listen to a lot of material about what I'm going through; to me it would be almost like cheating--cheating myself out of the most genuine human experience that any of us will ever have to experience.

Part of that experience involves accepting the fact that the woman who added so much security and stability to my life is now gone.  This poem is about that, I wrote it on June 8, the day that marked 48 years of our marriage:


On our wedding day we
tied a knot that bound us for life;
became rocks for each other.

Our life together rose, like a balloon;
from the flowering of youth
to plans for growing old together,
sometimes wandering,
but always safely tethered to the rock
that was our love.

Not even the dark evil malignancy
that faded away my rock,
can undo the knot
of always and forever love.
Our balloon will not be allowed
to drift aimlessly through an empty sky.
We will not be set free from our mooring.

John A. Bayerl, June 8, 2011

I'm not sure that poem will mean much to anyone but you and me, Dear.  Even some of my foolish behaviors never came close to untying the knot we tied on our wedding day; that's always and forever.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011


My heart has been heavy lately.  Late yesterday afternoon I went alone to Leslie Park, a golf course in Ann Arbor that in 2009-2010 Golf Magazine rated as the best municipal golf course in all 50 states.  That turned out to be just what I needed.  I got to the course around 5:00, and it was pretty busy.  I played the back nine first; it was slow going, and I soon caught up with a guy who was also playing alone, a guy from South Korea.  His English was pretty bad, but we were able to communicate well enough that I was able to ask him if I could play along with him.  We enjoyed the rest of the round, congratulating each other on good shots, moaning about missed putts, all the little rituals that golfers know.  On the eighteenth green, I reached out to shake his hand, and, quite to my surprise, he gave me a big hug.  I was quite moved by that.

I played the front nine alone, it wasn't busy at all, and the one threesome ahead of me allowed me to play through.  I played quite well, for me that is, and was pleased with being able to break 50.  A golf course at twilight is always a special place for me to be, it brings back fond memories of when I was a kid as well as times when Gwen would accompany me.  She was there last night too.  I wrote a poem about it:


There’s something special
about a twilight golf course
that gentles my heart,
quiets my soul.

Shadows are longer,
grass is greener,
new mown clippings smell fresher,
birds sing more cheerfully,
tears stand taller, straighter,
all is still.

I find myself at peace,
at one with nature,
and my beloved is there
for me to talk with,
about important things.

When I stow my clubs
in back of the car
I am more at peace
questions have been answered,
My perfect partner
takes the seat next to me
and we head for home.

John A. Bayerl, July 5, 2011

Thank you Dear, for being there on the golf course with me.  It made me feel so much better.  Anne has been home for the past two days; we've enjoyed sharing memories of the last two years with you.

Monday, July 4, 2011


This is a real quiet July Fourth holiday for me.  Not at all like the days when we would look forward in anticipation to a family outing at Buhr Park to watch the fireworks display.  Anne and I chuckled in reminisce of a time when we rode our bikes to the park for the fireworks.  Most of the time it was a wagon loaded with an ice chest of drinks and snacks, some blankets to sit on and the promise of fun at a family outing.  As my kids call to check in on me today I am reminded of and thankful for the bonds we formed during those times; strong even to this day.

Yesterday I attended a Detroit Tiger ball game with my brother and we saw an exciting game.  It was family day at the ball park, and it made me happy to see many young families out enjoying themselves. Of course, there's always the thought that it would have been such fun to be there with Gwen. That feeling will never go away completely, of that I'm quite sure.   Driving home in the car later those same feelings arose; it's as though all the sweet memories get compressed into one moment and it's more than the moment can bear to contain it all.  Gwen would sometimes talk about how she would be bursting with tears over some special moment, like our wedding or the birth of a child; that's how it feels.  And yet, in my heart I am grateful for those moments.  It would be sad to feel that there is nothing to mourn.  A heavy heart is far better than no heart at all.

I look at our picture, Dear, the one from the reunion last year.  You look so good  in your pretty black dress, and always a smile. At that time it would have been hard to comprehend that in only a few months you would no longer be on  this earth.  I miss you, and wish we were going to see some fireworks tonight.

Saturday, July 2, 2011


It occurred to me this morning that it is Saturday and another Ann Arbor tradition, the Farmer's Market is open; Gwen loved going there with me and just wandering about, checking out the fresh produce, being tempted to buy all the flowers on sale, and people watching.  Today was different, being there by myself; sort of felt out of place and feeling once again how easy it is to be lonely in a crowd.  But, I did it and found some satisfaction in doing so.  Some things caught my attention, a sign th at read BUY LOCAL;  shouldn't that be BUY LOCALLY?  An argument with myself ensued; I decided that BUY LOCAL is just a slogan and exempt from the rules that govern adverbs.  It would be better to say BUY LOCAL STUFF.  My buds in Birch Creek will appreciate this; there were some kohlrabi for sale at one of the farm stands.  The sign next to them said $2.00.   "Is that $2.00 a dozen," I asked the guy.  "Each," he said.  I didn't need Gwen protesting in my ear to say no to that deal! I usually run into someone I know at the market, but not today.

Meanwhile, I continue to miss my perfect partner more than ever.  My friend, Diane, sent me this affirmation today, Give yourself permission to be happy.  Another friend, Terri, had me promise to smile at a memory of Gwen each day.  I've studied enough psychology to know that I can't make myself happy anymore than I can make myself sad--I feel as though I'm temporarily suspended, waiting for something to happen.  I keep the faith that good things remain in store for me:


When I was 24
I met the love of my life—
all that followed,
unlike all that went before,
was blessed by the grace of everlasting love.

When I was 73 she left me,
the love of my life—
all that is yet to be,
like all that went before,
welcomes unseen graces. 

John A. Bayerl, June 30, 2011

Today and every day I will find time to smile and be happy at the memory of the many wonderful years we spent together, Dear. I know you want me to go on with my life and be happy; it's just that we completed each other's lives in such an easy way that it's hard to replace that sense of togetherness.

I am  humbled by the number of people, literally around the world, who read this blog, and I welcome comments from them.

Friday, July 1, 2011


Some days it just happens; today was one of those days when I feel overtaken by sadness and a longing for Gwen to be with me.  Anne came home for the holiday weekend with Sue up north--we had lunch down on campus and then she left in the afternoon.  It's pretty impossilbe to feel down when she is around.  It's another beautiful day, so I'll find some outdoor activities to keep me occupied and distracted, but there's only so much of that I can do--what we resist, persists.  When Gwen was with me she occupied the center of my life, now that she is gone the big empty spot where she was occupies my life.  Over time that big old hole will be filled, but for now it has to be faced and accepted.  I continue to try to honor Gwen by being the best kind of person I know how to be, writing this blog is part of that.  Writing poems is also part of the recovery project:

FEELING BLEAK           

 I don’t like feeling bleak.
Cornfields and wheat fields
in the fall feel bleak.
Economic outlooks are bleak.
People can’t feel bleak,
can they?

It happens when distractions disappear
and I am reminded that the one
who added color and tone,
indeed life, to my life
is gone.

 People can feel bleak.

John A. Bayerl, July 1, 2011

Thank you, Dear, for the spice you added to my life--it was never bleak when you were with me.