Lover's Key, Florida

Lover's Key, Florida

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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Remember the purpose.

Sometimes, like today, I have to remind myself about my purpose in writing this blog--it is to honor Gwen, the one love of my life, and to acquaint others with what a wonderful person she was.  It's sometimes easy to wander from those intentions and become somewhat narcissistic.  Also, I do miss her dearly, and want for us to some day be together again; yet, I know that I have the obligation to honor her by being true to her desire that I continue living the best kind of life I know how to live--and I will do that.  An acquaintance who recently lost his wife wrote a note in a card he sent me; it simply said that there are others who need our love.

Today I had the opportunity to walk in Gallup Park and sit on a bench with a friend, also a widow, and talk that free and easy way that is only possible for people who share a common experience that allows them to create a language all their own.  As much as one might wish it were so, it is not possible to remain in that delightful state where here is no posturing, game playing or any of the things that occur in everyday discourse; we both knew that we also have to function in a world where life has gone as usual for most people, and the loss of our beloved is nowhere near as keenly felt.  After all, every day millions of people are going through what we are going through.  At one point in our conversation my phone rang and it was a friend inquiring about playing a round of golf later in the afternoon.  We both laughed at how easy it was for me to switch into a mode where golf was on an equal footing with our conversation about the pain of being someone who has lost the one true thing in our lives.

Today as I sat on the bench in the park, Dear, I remembered that only a year ago Anne and I walked in the same park with you in your wheelchair and it was such a delightful occasion.  There is still that unwillingness to acknowledge that the person who sat in that wheelchair is no longer here on earth with us.  And, so I find time to talk with others who understand.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Again and Again

It's been a busy day today--got a lot of work done, had a dentist appointment, the women who clean our house came and made things look better as they always do. This evening I had my first singing lesson with  Kyle, my new teacher, as was the case with Elise, he is also patient, warm and encouraging.  I'm looking forward to working with him.

After my lesson I had dinner with my friend, Frank.  Frank was in the caregiver group that I attended, and his wife, Carey, was in Gwen's group.  She died in May.  It was good to talk with Frank, but also weird because he didn't want to talk about losing Carey at all.  We all do it our own way, I guess.  Anyway, ti was good to get together with him.

Now I'm home waiting for Anne to arrive any moment.  

Gwen's presence was particularly strong again today.  I came across this poem by Rilke recently, and it kind of fits my mood:

Again and Again

Again and again, however we know the landscape of love
and the little churchyard there, with its sorrowing names,
and the frighteningly silent abyss into which the others
fall: again and again the two of us walk out together
under the ancient trees, lie down again and again
among the flowers, face to face with the sky.

Rainer Maria Rilke

There's something I like about that poem, Dear, it speaks to my heart and soul and brings me wonderful memories of times you and I shared--and hope.

Monday, August 29, 2011


Today I sorted through three weeks worth of mail; somehow that made me feel officially back to the life I lead before I departed on my trip. One of the pieces of mail I received was a card from Lou Ann, one of the people I stayed with in Washington.  It touched my heart to hear her say that her house felt lonely after I left--I know exactly what that feels like. It also gave me warm feelings yesterday when my friend, Dick, whom I also visited in Tacoma, called just to say hello.  Our friendship has lasted through many years and major life changes.

It was good to get out and play golf this morning.  At one point I placed a ball marker on a green, and announced that I had "panked" it down.  Gwen and I had endless debates about this word; one that she and her mother invented.  The word "packed' seems drab by comparison: she and her mom panked down many things: snow, carpeting, a hair-do, just about anything that had to be pushed down and made smooth.  It was futile for me to attempt to convince her of the merits of any other word that might fit those situations. It felt so good to say panked this morning.    (Were Gwen with me today, I would point out that Spell Check agrees with me that it is not a legitimate word.  She of course would reply: "What do they know?")

After league play, I  played another round, by myself..  Again, it felt good to get back into a  routine of sorts. Being in nature, even if it is only on a golf course, has a curative and therapeutic effect; this morning I was more keenly aware that Gwen is gone than I have been in a long while.  Then the melancholy sets in. . .

Anne is stopping by for a quick overnight tomorrow while she is in Detroit on business.  I am indeed blessed with the strength in the family that Gwen and I helped create.

Today, my friend, Ginette, said this in a communication: "My soul is tired."  Four words, but they encapsulate those moments when the realization comes anew that the one true love in your life is gone forever.  It changes everything:


It changes everything
when the one you promised
to cherish always
is gone forever.

I don’t think there’s any way to prepare;
at least not for me.

Life becomes so much narrower;
make it through the day
is all that matters. . .
find things to do until nightfall,
and sometimes blessed sleep.

Remember how your heart would leap
at the mere thought of her.
Let the sweet memories emerge,
cling to the joy in them,

Keep her close in your heart;
find your faith, today will pass,
tomorrow will come.

John A. Bayerl, August 25, 2011

You would ask if I was ready to be without you, Dear, and I always answered that I was.  What did I know?. . .

Saturday, August 27, 2011


It's good to be back home.  When I arrived in my garage at 1:09 a. m. this morning, the smart screen on the dash of the car told me that I had traveled 5,962 miles and averaged 45.1 miles per gallon of gas.  The nice lady with the kind of sexy voice, who lives behind the screen, made me feel welcome by announcing: "You have arrived at your destination."  With more than a twinge of sadness I realized that my 17 day affair with the nice lady had come to an end.  I hoped it had been as good for her as it had for me.  She did all the work:  calculated distances; planned routes, told me about construction ahead and heavy traffic that lay ahead, and told me when I had to mend my ways with the same gentle voice; what she said was, "Make a legal U-turn," that's all, no threats, no recriminations, no guilt trips; just that gentle suggestion.  If I failed to heed her instructions, she simply shrugged her shoulders and planned another way for me to get to my destination.  Our parting was not painful--we both knew it had to come to an end, and parted as friends.

Walking into the empty house at 1:00 in the morning evoked those same sad feelings it always does, but it was also comforting to be back in the sanctum that Gwen and I had created; I feel her presence everywhere. This came to me this morning:


It’s never easy,
coming home
to an empty house.

I miss your voice,
your smile,
the warm embrace,
your smell,
everything that made you you.

This morning,
to take the sting from the homecoming,
I lay on the bed where you lay
all those hours, days, weeks, months,
and years—that your were told
you would not have.

I stared at the corner,
where the golden wall meets the white ceiling,
saw what you saw,
and knew why,
whenever I entered the room
you always greeted me
with a big, beautiful smile.

John A. Bayerl, August 27, 2011

One thing I learned while I was gone, Dear, is that I can be alone, all by myself, and walk tall.  You were with me as I enjoyed renewed friendships and God's good and beautiful earth.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

With family again.

I'm going to do a brief post tonight--it's late and I plan to get up early tomorrow morning.  I'm at my cousin, Bernie's, and his wife, Karla's, home in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.  In addition to being family, Gwen's and my relationship with them goes way back to when we first moved to Ann Arbor and Bernie was attending the School of Social Work at UM.   Like all of my relatives and friends who have opened their homes and hearts to me, they have made me feel completely at home, and are able to share their unique memories of Gwen.  They also are able to make me laugh; something I haven't done much lately.

Tomorrow will be my final leg of this journey I'm on, then I look forward to being back home.  At some point I'll have to summarize what this whole trip has meant to me and what I've taken from it.  I've learned a lot; there is still much to be learned.

It is still so hard to do these "firsts."  Gwen was quite fond of Bernie and Karla, and I know how much visits like this meant to her.

You were there in our conversations tonight, Dear; always foremost in my heart. 

The spiritual side of things.

Today has been another day of contemplation and reflection as I traveled from the mountains of western Wyoming to the Black Hills of South Dakota.  Gwen and I and our children visited Mount Rushmore many years ag0, so I didn't do that again.  Later in the day, as I drove past the Badlands of  South Dakota, I was reminded of the first time I saw them  when I drove our 1963 Ford to Oregon.  I thought myself to be a pretty sophisticated person, having just completed my Masters Degree at The University of Michigan, but was a babe in the woods as far as travel was concerned. I had never been further west than Milwaukee.  I was as impressed today as I was then at the sheer magnitude of our country and its diverse topographic features.  It was also quite an exercise in contrast to think about how when I made this trip the first time I was heading toward a  year of learning and growth, and, as I called Gwen each night to tell her about my day, we were both looking forward to an exciting future filled with opportunities.  I did not feel at all alone on that journey--how could I?-- the love of my life and our two children would join me in a little while in Portland.  Today was so different; no phone call to Gwen tonight, those two children are now all grown up and looking forward to their own exciting opportunities, such as the blog that Jeanne began publishing today.  I'm alone, but  not terribly lonely when I can think about life that way.

There was another moment of spiritual awakening today when I came to accept that Gwen and I will someday be together again, but that for now, although I am ready for that to happen whenever it does, in all likelihood I'm going to be around for quite a while yet, so there's that to take into consideration.  The week after Gwen died, I saw a friend in church who offered her condolences, and then snapped her fingers and said, "That's what this life is compared to what's ahead."  I didn't get it at the time, but think I do now.  Maybe it's being alone in the vastness of the Great Plains that helped me understand how relatively brief each person's life is compared to the great scheme of things.  John and I attended a concert a while ago, and the singer sang a song called, "Let The Mystery Be."  That's where I need to be.

Our hearts do go on, Dear.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

No matter what, I miss her,

Yesterday was the kind of day I hoped for.  Beautiful weather, light traffic, constantly changing scenery; from crossing the Continental Divide at near 7,000 feet to rolling prairies and finally the rolling hills of eastern Montana.  I spent some of the day admiring all the natural beauty, and much of the time I spent being angry with God.  I know that when two people love each other for years and years it is inevitable that, barring an accident or catastrophe that takes them both at the same time, one will go and the other is left behind.  The Bruce Springsteen song, I'll wait for you, comes to mind here.  Nonetheless, it just isn't fair for things to be that way.

Then, I thought things through, and came to some realizations.  It really isn't fair, but it is comforting to know how much Gwen contributed to making me who I am today.  She left me knowing that I am able to care for myself quite competently.  Shortly before she died, I recall her asking the nurse how long she might have left.  The nurse replied that she wasn't able to predict the future but that it might be before the end of the year.
She then asked Gwen if she was OK with that, and Gwen replied that she was as long as John and the kids were.  I assured her that we were.  Now, we are living up to that pledge. That's so easy to say, but so hard to do when I see wild horses in the field and want to tell her" "Look, up on the hill, wild horses."

I've fallen behind, Dear; today I had a clear presence of you waiting for me, like you said you would.  Our children and everyone who knew and loved you are all helping to make it easier--no, not easier, it's never easy, but it is doable.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The best laid plans. . .

Yesterday did not go as I had hoped it might.  I arrived at the campground where I hoped to pitch my tent, and was greeted by a sign that said the campground was full.  Drat!  I could have gone to alternative sites, but there were people everywhere, and I didn't think I would be able to achieve the serenity I had hoped for.  I did find a secluded spot on the beach, and enjoyed lunch there.  I also walked into the water just to bring a sense of completion to this phase of my trek.  Then, I turned the car around and headed back toward Michigan.  Rather that return the way I had come, I took a route through the Columbia River Gorge: a spectacular ride.  One place I was sure to stop was at Multnomah Falls--I have a nice picture of Gwen with the waterfall in the background, and being there today brought back sweet memories.  I drove to a place in Washington, just across the Columbia, where I planned to get a motel room.  Wouldn't you know?  This is the week for the Fair, and every room in town was booked.   There isn't much between where I was and Spokane, so I drove there and was able to get a good night's rest.

Today, I plan to go where the road takes me, as long as it's in a generally easterly direction.

This morning, as I was having breakfast at the motel, Dear, a guy about my age was gathering up a tray to take back to his wife in their room; the way I used to do for you.  It was hard going back to that empty room. . .

Monday, August 22, 2011

I will find other seas.

Blessings come in many forms. First, there were my nephew, Andrew, and his friend, Zana, teaching me about the Zen of rock climbing and being true to yourself.  Then, within the past week I've been blessed with the renewed friendship of Lou Ann Hanson and Dick and Peggy Patterson, and, more recently, my niece, Kathy and her husband, Rob, and their daughter, Patti.  I spoke on the phone with my nephew, Frank, last night, and don't know whether I'll be able to spend time with him and Anne and Katie; but they are always welcome at our home in Ann Arbor.  And then, of course, my niece, Mary and her husband, Steve, and their children,  have opened their home and their hearts to me. Gratitude somehow doesn't seem sufficient to thank them for their gracious love and caring.  I leave here feeling that family tradition has been enriched and carried forward.

I'll take a break from writing today as I look forward to spending time alone; somewhere near the confluence of the mighty Columbia River and the unimaginable depth and breadth of the Pacific Ocean. Pad and pencil in hand, it will be a time for reflection, recollection and renewal.

You are always with me, Dear, as we agree on a plan for the future--another of our great adventures.  

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Two if by sea.

I'm excited this morning; we will soon be on  Mary and Steve's boat for a look at the city of Portland from the water.  After a great meal that Mary prepared last night and a visit with Kathy and Rob and some of the children, Mary and I stayed up and had a great conversation; about life, and death and everything in between.  It is always such a privilege to get to know these "kids" and their families in a context other than an occasional family reunion, or wedding or funeral--a depth is always discovered that I always knew was there but seldom had time to explore.  It reminds me of a quote I read yesterday:  "The farther away from my past I get, the nearer I am to it."

More later, time to get ready for the big day on the water.

I'm tired, but it was a tremendous day on the water.  Steve is a master boatman and  tour guide; I particularly enjoyed seeing the shipyard where he works.  We toured the city of Portland by water, took the Willamette River from the falls at one end to where it joins the mighty Columbia River.  The weather was perfect, I once again enjoyed the company of Mary, two of her friends, and her niece, Patti.  The stop at a dockside restaurant for lunch  added to the enjoyment.  All-in-all, a spectacular day, and one I won't soon forget.

Then there's the matter of feeling Gwen's presence everywhere.  I remembered how much she enjoyed boating, and how much she would have loved being with us today.  That's always a tough thing: on the one hand, there's the genuine enjoyment of the day and a deep feeling of gratitude for the friends and family who go out of their way to show me loving kindness everywhere I go; on the other hand, there's the frequent sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach, and my eyes tear up when I feel how wrong it seems that Gwen isn't enjoying it with me.  I know that I write about feeling that dichotomy often, and sometimes think that maybe I think about it too much.  Am I being selfish?   But, the feelings are there, and I must acknowledge and work them through.  A long time ago I wrote it: "The deeper the love, the greater the grief."

Tomorrow will be another fun-filled day as we plan to attend a soccer game featuring Portland's professional team.

You were with me in so many ways today, Dear; we cherished little things we did together then, like coffee and cake at twilight in the restaurant on the bluff overlooking the city; feeling the enchantment of seeing the lights come on one by one.  I'll never forget those times.  Today I told Mary that I was enjoying the day twice--once for you and once for me. 


Friday, August 19, 2011


Later today I'll be back on the road; headed for Portland, where I'll visit with Mary, Kathy and Frank and pay a visit to the ocean before I turn around and head back home.  Last night it was fun visiting with Michael Hanson, who was eight years old when we lived in Oregon.  He remembers watching the Green Bay Packers' football games as we gathered weekly in Gwen's and my apartment.  Now, I'm getting restless again, and it is time to move on.  Being on the road has revived many memories of trips that Gwen and I took together.  This is a poem about a particular segment of our many trips to Marrquette:


The road across
from U. S. 2 to M-28,
runs through Engadine;
Gwen and I took it often.

Today I’m alone in my car
as I make the lonely trek;
memories fill every mile.

There was a time
we drove through
a blinding snowstorm;
had to pull over, wait
for the snowplow.

Another time we were on our
way to Ann Arbor for the first time.
young and in love,
we had to stop at a park,
we did not wait for anything then—
anything except our wedding .

Most of the time
the trip through Engadine
was nothing but boring.
But, there was that time. . .

John A. Bayerl, August 17, 2011

I still miss you so, Dear, the sweet memories we made together are now a precious gift.  

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Love and "magic glue."

As I was driving from my friend's house to the Internet Cafe I had a feeling that can only be described as a sad, sad longing; Gwen was so much a part of all of the things I am now reliving, and it's still difficult to accept the fact that she is gone.  She said she would love me forever, and now she is gone forever:  I take consolation in knowing that the love remains and will go on forever.

There will be more reminders of how precious and genuine the miracle of our love was. That sounds awfully sentimental, but there is a truth in it that I've come to believe and understand.  That truth is that all people who have been in a  relationship where their love is tested by time experience the same thing; in moments of quiet reflection they stand in awe of the "magic glue" that keeps them constantly in love with the one they have chosen as their mate.  In a religious context, we would call it a gift of grace from The Holy Spirit.  In Gwen's and my travels through life we didn't always think these kind of things and talk about them and make them explicit, but they were always there; at the core.  Is it any wonder then that there are these moments of sad, sad longing?

Thank you, Dear, for a life and a love that had at its core the "magic glue" that now creates these feelings of sad, sad longing for my perfect partner.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Fond memories remain.

I'm beginning this post at the cafe' near my friend's home, but will soon leave for another visit with the Dick and Peggy Patterson.  We enjoyed their company yesterday, I realized that Dick and I still have a lot of catching up to do.  I'll stay here tomorrow, and then on Friday drive over to Portland, where Mary has asked me to stay at their home.

This "voyage of self-discovery" has been overall a good experience.  Just today I commented that I feel as though the balance between feeling alone, mournful, melancholy and mopey is tipping in favor of hopefulness, optimism, planning and strength.  I think part of it has to do with meeting with these old friends and recognizing that they and I have grown old.  And, I am reminded of the good life Gwen and I had with them when we were young. But, that was then, and this is now, and it needs to be accepted that there are still things I have to do:  four children to love,  grandchildren to be the best kind of grandpa I know how to be for, and all my other friends and relatives to remain in contact with and be thankful for.

This is an excerpt from a poem read today.  It's entitled SUMMER'S END,  and was written by John Engel:

Precisely to the degree that you have loved something:
a house, a woman, a bird, this tree, anything at all,
you are punished by time.

More on this later, it's time to leave for the Pattersons.

It was great afternoon, the Pattersons daughter and her two daughters were there; we had a great meal and good conversation, now it's back to Tacoma.

I so wish you were here with me, Dear; the fond memories remain.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011


It feels  strange to be settled down a bit at Lou Ann's place in Tacoma.  She cared for her husband for 14 years after he fell on a ropes course and was blinded.  He and I got along well when we were in school together.  He had a great sense of humor and a strong personality.  I see and feel his presence in their home.  Yesterday we toured a  park on the Puget Sound and walked through the beautiful gardens there.  It is good to be reminded that there is beauty in the world.  Today we plan to visit with a friend, also a classmate, and his wife who live about an hour away.  The friends Gwen and I made and the bonds we formed during the year in Portland have remained strong through the years.

Today, a reminder from Ann Arbor about the first UM football game where I will begin my new duties as assistant supervisor, East Tower, level 2000, the Big House.  I told  Dave, the guy who sent the e-mail message, that the ginormous new scoreboards recently installed at the stadium will serve as a star in the east to guide me home.

It feels good to be back in touch with the world and my friends and relatives as I sit here with my computer.  All of this would be so much better if Gwen were with me.  Recently, as I've begun to concentrate on what remains to be accomplished in this life, I am gaining a sense of strength and purpose.  My sense of humor is also beginning to appear more frequently:


I sat in a back pew,
wishing with all my heart
that I had not worn cargo shorts.

This was a cowboy church!

In they come, one by one,
all of them, every single one,
wearing Levi jeans.
Some of the women wore dresses;
the ones who didn’t wear jeans.

Gwen would never have allowed me
to wear green cargo shorts to church;
not even in Ann Arbor.

John A. Bayerl, August 14, 2011

It has been sad, but also comforting, Dear, to hear old friends tell me-- as if I needed to hear-- what a kind, loving and wonderful person you were.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Silent Sunday

Well, not totally silent.  Yesterday I stopped in Miles City, Montana, and came across a car wash to benefit Relay for Life, in support of cancer research.  I, of course, pulled in and had my car washed.  The gentleman in the background with the cowboy  hat is a local doctor, a cancer survivor himself, who helped organize the event.  In addition to a cinnamon bun, I was given special recognition for having traveled the farthest to have my car washed.  There were also some hugs.

I'm all tucked in at a little motel in an even littler town named Odessa in Eastern Washington.  Tomorrow I'll be visiting my friends in Tacoma.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Making a list.

This will be another two-part posting.  I had an easy trip over to Bozeman, and am now relaxing in a nice motel room.  In an hour or so I am going to meet my nephew, who lives near here, and his friend for dinner.  I'll add more to this when I return.

It is still so hard being her without my Gwen to worry about bedbugs, what kinds of unseemly acts may have been performed on the bed comforter, and how the heck does the TV remote work anyway?  That's the easy, fun part; everything I do seems to remind me of something she and I did, and I get that sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach when I have to face the fact that we'll never do anything together again on this earth.  Today on several occasions I drove past pastures where horses were grazing.  She loved seeing horses out in the wild like that.

Today I once again felt Gwen's presence when I came to the conclusion that it's time for me to make some lists. Gwen loved lists; they added purpose to her day, and made me a better husband.  The list I thought about today has to do with what I will do from here on--I'll write them all down later tonight, and add to it, revise it, etc.  Gwen is part of it, making me a better man; we talked about this, and she wants me to go on with my life.  I don't write anything while driving, but I did write this at the top of the list when I stopped at a rest area:  Trust the process, and let life unfold the way it is supposed to.

In addition to making progress on my goal of figuring out who I am without Gwen by my side, I remembered to enjoy the ride today--stopped frequently at rest areas and scenic turnouts.  I took some pictures that I'll download later and include with the blog.

Time to go.

OK, I'm back.  What a wonderful time I had with Andrew and his friend Zana.  They had just come back from a hike in the mountains.  We had a great meal, and they taught me a lot about the Zen of rock climbing.  They are both the kind of people that Gwen loved.  I'm so glad we were able to get together.  The picture is of Andrew and me.  The mural on the wall behind us was painted by Zana.

I get these moments Dear, when I am so sad that you aren't here enjoying things with me.  This song by Sarah Brightman and Andrea Boccellia captures that mood perfectly:

Friday, August 12, 2011

Do it all over again.

This morning as I was checking out of the motel I saw that today is the 12th, not yesterday as I thought.  The travel got me discombobulated.  So. . .I get to do it all over again.  It is fitting that it is a Friday night, as it was on a Friday night that Gwen died.

I'm holed up in a motel in a little town called Beach,  on the North Dakota/Montana border.  It's a small room in a lower level, but it's clean, has a refrigerator and microwave, Internet, and pretty pictures on the wall.  Gwen may not have approved.

My trip today was through the prairies and then the Badlands.  As I was leaving Minnesota this morning,   there was a humorous moment: driving past a Christmas Tree farm, I noted that the brightly painted sign was still up "Cut your own tree.  $32.86."  Interesting price.  Tomorrow I'll be in Montana, and maybe Idaho. On Sunday I hope to make it to my friend's home in Tacoma.  I've begun to feel like I'm on a timeline, and I don't like that feeling.  Looking back, I am thankful that I was with family last night, but today it felt good to be alone; totally alone, out of the house, on my own, just like I was before Gwen and I discovered the miracle of our love.   Maybe it was the vastness of the prairie landscape the reinforced that sense of being just me by myself.  (A couple days at the beach in Oregon is beginning to look more and more tempting.)  I got a lot of thinking done, and am beginning to feel comfortable with this process of re-discovering who I am.  I'm reminded of an old story that I first heard from my nephew, Joe, and later found in a book of poetry:

The old man said that there are two kinds of people,
your cloud people and your sun people.
I'm not sure which one I am," I said to him.
"Clouds will do that to you," he replied.

There were clouds during my drive today; big, dark storm clouds.  For a while I drove through hail the size of marbles; then it rained so hard I could barely see out the window.  It all concluded with gusty winds, but the sun is once again shining brightly.  

My mind and heart keep going back to that last night with you, Dear.  It's been nine months now, but I still wake up every morning and go to bed each night with a great big hole in my heart. . .missing you.  

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Regrets, remorse and realizations.

It's been a long but wonderful day.  After rising early I packed a few more things in the car and then hit the road.  It was a perfect day for driving, traffic was light, and I made it all the way to Minnesota before calling it a day.  After a drive of almost 700 miles, it was good to meet up with Dick and Mary and Beth and her family for a meal.  Now it's late, and I will soon be off to bed.

Today is one of those anniversaries.  (I don't like to call them anniversaries, that word has connotations of celebrating a joyous event, maybe commemoration would be a better choice of words.)   It was nine months ago that I was with Gwen as she took her last breath.  As I was driving today, I had time to reflect back on that night, and some memories are beginning to come back--nothing bad or traumatic, but I can't talk about it yet.

 I do have remorse that I wasn't better prepared to accept the reality that Gwen was dying.  But, then I realize that it all happened rather suddenly, and for almost five years there was always another day with her.  This time there wasn't.

I have regrets that I didn't see the signs almost  a week earlier that the end was coming.  Gwen tried to tell me, and I couldn't hear what she was saying.  Yet, I realize that I was too busy loving her to come to grips with the fact that she would indeed die some day soon.  As Diane, one of my online friends put it, "I wasn't done loving her yet."  I realize too that I did the best job of caring for my perfect partner that I knew how to do right up to the end.

Thank you, Dear, for teaching me how to love--and forgive.  It's just that I wasn't done loving you. . .

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Ready for the big adventure.

Although I have this nagging feeling that I'm forgetting something, I am now packed and ready to leave early tomorrow morning.  I'm anxious to get on the road; tomorrow doesn't look too exciting, places I've been many times before, but I hope to be headed due west before I call it a day.

Four things happened today that lightened my load somewhat.  An old friend of  Anne's  came in this evening with her husband and two young children.  They are going to stay at my house until Saturday while they visit friends in Ann Arbor.  The kids are a delight, and Carlin and Ben are easy to be with; Carlin used to hang around our house a lot when she was in high school, and Gwen was very fond of her.  I'm sure she loves it that we are able to do this favor for them.  We went out to eat, and while parking a former colleague whom I haven't seen in at least 20 years drove up and said hello.  We've been trying to connect on Facebook, but this made it so much easier. I've always respected and admired her.  Earlier in the evening two of my friends whom I will see in Washington called to finalize plans for our visit.  It's been at least 40 years since I last saw them, but when talking with them it's like no time at all has elapsed.  That year in Portland was pretty special. Lastly, an old friend paid me a high compliment after reading my blog, and it brought me to tears--a fitting way to get ready for bed and then up early tomorrow.

All of these events relate to people who had a special place in our lives and heart, Dear.  I feel your presence in all of them.  

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

All endings are beginnings. . .

This morning I attended the monthly meeting of the bereavement group that was begun by Arbor Hospice and now continues to meet on our own; thanks in large part to Carl's leadership.  It is good to be with a group of people with a common experience, that of losing a spouse.  It isn't necessary to be two people there; I always feel much more congruent and accepted simply because I don't have to pretend to be something I'm not.  This isn't an indictment of "the rest of the world."   Our family, friends and relatives all have matters that concern them greatly, and we couldn't expect them to share our unique sense of loss.  So. . . we don the mask, act like everything is OK, and, in some ways it is.  There's a saying in AA groups, "Fake it until you make it."  That's how it seems to be with most of us.  There was no need to fake anything in the group this morning.   At one point I just looked around at the people there and experienced an immense feeling of gratitude.

Although Ed and I played a round of golf this evening, most of today was spent getting packed for my upcoming trip.  Sometimes I catch myself acting a lot like Gwen; I feel as though I have to pack everything I own, she was the master of that, and we kidded her about it endlessly.  Then, I have to remind myself that I will be gone for less than a month, and there will be laundromats along the way.  Tomorrow I will get the car packed, and then be ready to leave early Thursday morning.  I packed a tent and sleeping bag, and have this notion that I may want to spend some time alone at a campsite, preferably at the ocean.  Maybe I won't have a chance to do that, but I'll be prepared.  Today I took a break and screwed up my courage and watched a DVD of some family tapes that Dick, in his generous way, prepared for me.  One of them in particular was one I hadn't seen before of a camping trip we took with John and Elise.  Seeing Gwen as she was 20 years ago, hearing her voice, how happy she was and how much fun we were having: a confirmation that the love we shared was as real as I remember it to be.  Sure, I cried a little, but also took the time to be grateful for what we had.  In one part of the tape we were eating  s'mores around a campfire, and John Gerich uttered his famous commentary that they "took away the appetite, but not the hunger."  Life was good.

This morning Carl gave us a copy of a quote from Mitch Albom that he had printed:  "All endings are beginnings.  We just don't know it at the time. . ."  It reminded me of something that Marge, another member of the group had said at one of our first meetings when we were sharing pictures of our beloved.  What she said was that she doesn't have pictures of who she is now.  We are still composing those pictures.

Sometimes, Dear, I remember that you once told me that some day you would miss me dearly. I often find myself taking solace in those words, especially at those times when I miss you so dearly--like right now.

Monday, August 8, 2011


It's another one of those days when Gwen is always on the edge of my awareness.  I miss her so. Today while I was at the outing at the UM Golf Course I had this strange feeling of guilty freedom.  In the past when I would attend this I would worry some that Gwen was doing OK at home alone, call her on the cell phone, hurry home with a lunch for her after the outing ended.  Today I found myself still thinking those kind of thoughts.  More than once I caught myself reaching for the phone to call Gwen and tell her about something that had just happened.  Even as I drove into the garage I had this little feeling of excitement that I would soon be able to tell Gwen about my day.  Reality set in when I recalled her brave attempts to climb the three steps up to the kitchen door.  And, as usual, reality sucked.

The day was not without its humorous moments.  My partner at the outing was a personable young man; a banker in Saline.  When we drove to the parking lot to put our clubs in our cars, they were respectively my Prius and his Lincoln.  We didn't have a lot to talk about during the day.

First time ever, my neighbor came over this evening, and I invited him into the house.  He came to get some of my golf balls.  In exchange he is going to water my flowers and mow my lawn while I'm gone out west.  We are very different people, but we get along together very well--kind of like the banker and me today.

On the drive up to Mary and Milt's last weekend I passed a little roadside park at which Gwen and I had stopped to have a picnic lunch.  I believe that two of our nieces, Julie and Debby were also with us, because I remembered stopping at the park on the lake right in the town of Cadillac.  This poem is about a different time when we stopped there:


I stopped at the little roadside park
we once visited,
right outside the city of Cadillac;
remembered how we feasted
on Skippy Peanut Butter,
Welch’s Grape Jelly,
Wonder White Bread;
ate a whole box of just-picked blueberries.

Then we were back on the road,  
map in hand, she was my built-in GPS,
just turn when she said turn,
go here, stop there, I trusted her,
she always got us where we were going.

Now I travel alone in my fancy car,
without her at my side, no map,
no one to listen to:
just a computer voice,
make a legal U-turn. . .

I’m lost as I can be:
if I don’t know my destination,
how will I ever get there?

John A. Bayerl, August 8, 2011

One of the many things you did to make me complete, Dear, was to be my sure sense of direction in the world.  And so I miss not having your steady presence at my side as I go about figuring out where I am headed and how to get there.  

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Rained out.

As I write this I can hear a cardinal singing outside my window. the enticing smell of breakfast bacon fills the air, and I feel something I haven't felt in a long time--contentment.  This morning my sister told me of a dream she had last night, she and Gwen were together, and Gwen said that she was her BFF.  She is here with us.

Soon we'll leave for the barn concert.  We're excited; promises to be a lot of fun.

Later. . .it's very late at night, this will be brief.  The first half of the concert was great; met John and Amy and Brooke and many of their friends, the food was great, the music was as promised--then came intermission and a thunderstorm that included a downpour and the loss of electricity in the barn where the band was to play.  We came home earlier than planned, and feeling disappointed at not being able to see the show through to the end.

It was strange tonight, Dear, during the picnic lunch I would get up to go talk with someone and then think to myself that I had to get back and not let you sit by yourself.   It was my sister, Mary, of course, and I was grateful for her companionship.  The whole outing tonight was filled with memories of times you and I spent together up here when my friend Tom and I would teach a summer class for EMU--the motels we stayed at, restaurants we ate at, places we visited. . .

Friday, August 5, 2011

Being with those we love.

After a drive to Milt and Mary's home that was filled with warm memories and nostalgia (poem tomorrow), it has felt good to be spending time with family.  Gwen and Mary ware always close, and Milt and I get along well, so it is easy and settling to be able to spend time with them.  We had a nice meal at a restaurant in Frankfort, and then Milt and I played nine holes of golf at Arcadia Bluffs, where he works as a starter.  I had forgotten what a spectacular course it is, and also forgot my camera (Mary reminded me that I could have used my phone to take pictures.  Duh. . .).  We were there at sunset, and I missed the opportunity to take some great photos.  I hope to go back tomorrow and get a few.

As pleasant and easy as it is to spend time with my sister and brother-in-law, it is also another of those painful firsts.  It's been a long time since Gwen and I last visited here, but the memories remain vivid.

I so enjoyed the time I spent with Milt on the golf course tonight, Dear.  At one point, we looked out over the setting sun on Lake Michigan,  and Milt asked what could be better than this.  I replied that it was as good as it gets, but in my heart I knew that being able to enjoy it with you as we did the last time we were here made it so much better.  

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Being In Between

Today I talked with my psychologist friend about this feeling of being "in-between" that I've been experiencing lately.  It's hard to describe and harder yet to define this feeling.  It's as though I'm waiting for the next thing to happen, and I have no idea what it will be.  It's part of the process of grieving, and I intend to stay with it and work it through.  It's just that it's hard to feel the "normal" emotions of life like joy and happiness when all I feel is sad that Gwen is no longer with me, and I must now continue the bewildering task of creating a life without her.

That being said, I am excited and happy that tomorrow morning I will drive up to visit with Milt and Mary. The plan is to golf with Milt tomorrow afternoon or evening , and then on Saturday night Mary and I will attend a bluegrass concert at Aten Place, a unique venue for a show.  John, Amy and Brooke will also be there.  On Sunday I'll drive home, and then on Thursday of next week  I'm off on my big trip out west.  Maybe part of what I'm feeling is anxiety about leaving the sanctuary that Gwen and I created for such a long time.  Yet, I know that I must do it.

All of this reflection on my process of grieving reminded me of a poem I posted when I first began this blog.  It seems appropriate once again:


 I intend to share some of my poems in this blog, but today I offer a poem sent to me by a friend, Fr. Dennis Dillon.


Those who will not slip beneath
the still surface on the well of grief

turning down to its black water
to the place that we cannot breathe

will never know
the source from which we drink
the secret water cold and clear

nor find in the darkness
the small gold coins
thrown by those who wished for something else

~ David Whyte ~

On the 12th of this month it will be nine months since you left me, Dear. The symbolism that it takes nine months for a  baby to be born isn't lost on me.  I'll need some helping giving birth to this new me.  It also isn't lost on me that the four beautiful children we raised together are always there seeing to it that I don't drown in the well of grief. 

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Take me out to the ballgame.

My friend Ed had an early tee time for us today.  A friend of one of his daughters was with him, so I was paired up with a young man who taught elementary school in Ann Arbor last year. His wife just completed a PhD in economics, and they are moving to Massachusetts where she has a position at one of the colleges there. He was easy to talk with, and I enjoyed spending most of the morning with him.  There were still many moments when I missed Gwen tremendously: it was a somewhat rainy morning, but a cooler, wind made it pleasant nonetheless.  Keeping busy is the key for me right now.

Shortly I will leave to pick up my grand-nephew, Sam, and drive to Detroit for a Tiger game.  I'll complete this when I return; late as it may be.

It's pretty late; I've just returned from the ball game with a hodge-podge of thoughts, memories and emotions.  Sam and I saw an exciting and dramatic game that the home-team Tigers won in the late innings. Sam was introduced to the wonders of "Papa Grande," the Tigers' closing pitcher who has a flair for the dramatic. Having Same with me and seeing him get all excited about the game added to the enjoyment.  At one point I looked over at Sam and remembered that the last time Gwen had been with him was two years ago at his high-school graduation party.  He entertained  with his guitar at the party, and Gwen was taken by how well he played.  She was always quite fond of him.  So, in a way, me being at the game with him tonight brought things full circle.  She certainly approved of my being there with him.

On the way home from the game we took the same route that Gwen and I would take the year before she died when she  sought some last-resort measures at the Karmanos Cancer Institute in downtown Detroit.  Such warm memories of just riding along, holding hands, feeling hopeful, love in action.  Then, I came home to the house with the "candle" burning in the window of the room where she died. . .It is still so hard to reconcile those realities.

You were with me all the way tonight, Dear, I'll rest well, feeling your presence.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011


It's late for me to be writing.  This has been one of those days when time just kind of slips away.  This morning I slept later than usual, and when I awoke I had wonderful remembrances of Gwen; not long ago, but just a year ago when she was still up and about doing things with me and sharing the bed with me.  That prompted me to write this poem:


I slept late this morning;
awoke and wanted you next to me,
like always—
asking about my plans for the day,
telling me your schemes and ideas.

Gosh, how I miss you.

What I miss most of all,
on an early summer morning,
is your warm, soft, nearness. 

John A. Bayerl, August 2, 2011

It's late, Dear, tomorrow morning I plan to play some golf, and then tomorrow night it's off to a Tiger game with Sam.  I'll always feel you warm, soft, nearness.

Monday, August 1, 2011

On Being a Widow

All-in-all, it's been a pretty good day; golf in the morning, a really nice visit with brother Dick, and then  home where I got caught up on  a lot of chores in the kitchen.  This morning, as I was having breakfast, the movie Cool Runnings, about the Jamaican Bobsled team in the 1988 Olympics, was on TV.  I don't watch much TV anymore,  but I became engrossed in the story, and recorded the last half hour so that I could watch it later, which I did.  It's so much easier for me to cry nowadays, and I had tears in my eyes at the end of the movie.  This must have been in preparation for what was to happened next.  One of the things that came in today's mail was my car insurance bill, and, as I looked at the policy, under Marital Status was listed "Widowed."  It's only an accurate description of my marital status, but I hadn't seen it in writing before, and it was one of those moments that sharply outlines reality for me.  So, I cried some more.  Also in the mail was a card from a friend of my sister's whose wife died recently.  He thanked me for the card I had sent him and then talked about how hard it is to have the center of one's life taken away--I knew exactly what he was talking about. 

Later this evening I called Gwen's sister, Patti, to get directions for making coleslaw that she served one evening while I was visiting with her.  As I dialed her number it struck me that I still have that number committed to memory--why wouldn't I?  I've been dialing it for 50 years.  It brought back such fond, loving memories of times when I would be lonely for Gwen, and I would drive to a pay phone in Menominee, put in the proper amount of coins, dial her number, and then feel something bordering on disbelief that the that always came from hearing her say "I love you."  It took me a long time to feel like I was worthy of those words; she was so special in my heart.

I miss you always, Dear, and am grateful for these loving memories of you.