Lover's Key, Florida

Lover's Key, Florida

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Monday, October 31, 2011

What I know to be true, and what I feel in my heart.

Friday and Sunday nights continue to be a problem for me.  Friday nights are synonymous with the joy I felt at being reunited with Gwen after a week of being apart and, a lifetime later, having her physical presence leave me.  On Sunday nights I would begin missing Gwen the moment she walked into the house and I backed out or her driveway and headed for Birch Creek.  Then, of course, I could feel her lips on mine all the way home, and look forward to next Friday night.  The hard part now is not being able to look forward to the next Friday night; when I would once again feel her lips on mine.  

  Sunday night, after Anne left for the airport, I had this forlorn feeling, that it just wasn't  right that Gwen wasn’t there with me to say goodbye to her, and it would be just me in the house again after she left.  Gwen needs to be here with me; we weren’t through loving each other.  It was cloudy and cold, and, as night began to fall I remembered Gwen once saying, “my mood reflects the weather—gloomy.” 

I wrote these words to a friend today, “the battle between what we know to be true cognitively and what we feel in our heart is at the core of our pain.”  My friend also talked about her struggle to restore meaning, value and identity to her life.  We face that struggle every day of our life, but it becomes so much more difficult when the one who automatically added those things to our life isn’t here to do it.  Now family and friends do that for us, but, face it, it will never be the same.

There are thing for which I am grateful.  Singing in the choir at church was special yesterday when a string quartet accompanied us.  After that Anne and I drove to Brighton where we met John, Amy and Brooke for brunch. . .nothing to be sad about there.  My plan to drive to Hershey to visit with Mike and Deann next weekend is firmed up; in spite of my melancholy mood, there is much for which to be grateful.

This morning, Dear, as I was typing this, out of the corner of my eye I saw Max standing and looking out the window while you scratched behind his ears.  Of course, Max had only one thought in his mind, there are squirrels running around out there!  I had only one thought in mind; I’ll go sit on the couch with Gwen and rub her feet.  Meaning, value and identity will once again be mine.  (No, kids, that part about Max doesn't mean what you think it does.)

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Things are stirring.

I don't know if any of this will make sense;  I just have to write about it.  Two thoughts I’ve had lately have to do with something I heard somewhere recently.  The first is this: “We cannot change our past, but we can change our relationship to it.”  The second is related to the first: “In order for the new self to emerge the old self has to die.”  Those two thoughts capture the essence of how I’ve been going about dealing with my grief over the fact that Gwen, my soul mate, has died. 

My relationship to the past is in large part about my relationship to Gwen.  There are so many wonderful memories wrapped up in that relationship.  Then there are at least two ways to look at that.  I can stay stuck in the past and be sad that those days are gone.  On the other hand, I can bring those memories into my present life and cherish them as fond reminders of the love that Gwen and I shared for so long, and appreciate and be grateful for them.  That is not as easy to do as it may sound.  It’s kind of like putting toothpaste back in the tube.  When those memories are a part of my life once again it’s as though they add sweetness to my life that makes the lonely emptiness bearable.  I can’t just put them back where they were before I found them, much like I can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube.  It’s always the smallest thing that triggers these kind of feeling—the Tennessee Waltz was playing on my i-Pod earlier today, and I was back dancing with Gwen at her folk's cottage, feeling her, smelling her, seeing her, hearing her say sweet things, tasting her lipstick, wanting her as much as ever.  As I write this I realize how sentimental, maybe even naive it sounds, but that’s what it’s like for me. 

Then the second idea comes into play.  Can I let the old self die in order that a new life may emerge?  Can I allow all those memories of things in the past become just that—memories?   There are times during the day when I am able to do that, yet, when I walk into the empty house, even this weekend when Anne is visiting; there is the realization, almost as though for the first time, that Gwen isn’t there to greet me.  And, that just plain hurts.   I know that Gwen wants me to let a new life emerge.  Yet, there’s always a part of me that wants to say, “easy for her to say.”  So, I go on, day by day, sometimes moment by moment, being the best father, grandfather, friend, person filled with faith and hope—me—that I know how to be.  What I’m left with is my favorite saying, from the Quakers, “A way will show.”   Soon it will be a year since Gwen died.  I wonder what it will be like a year from now, two years from now; then I remember that a year ago I would have been sitting with Gwen enjoying a TV show, or just talking.  Can life again be like that for me. . .filled with familiar routines and enjoying the company of those I love?  It has helped to write about this, things have gotten a bit clearer.

There were times when I was working at the stadium today, Dear, when I was by myself with time on my hands.  At times like that my thoughts always turn to you.  I don’t ever want that relationship to my past to change.  And, as the old me dies and the new me emerges, I want you always to be part of whomever I am.

Friday, October 28, 2011


One of the things I most loved about Gwen was her ability to surprise me; sometimes it would be her unexpected sense of humor.  We had a discussion about funerals.  Her wish was that she be cremated and laid to rest in a simple ceremony.  I argued that it would be better to have a traditional funeral with her lying in state in a casket.  She reluctantly agreed.  Shortly before her death she had begun experiencing pain in her joints, and, when I would roll her on her side to bathe or clothe her it was important to do so carefully so as not to put undue pressure on her joint, causing more pain.  On one occasion I forgot this, and simply rolled her onto her side.  I immediately saw that I had caused her to have a good deal of unnecessary pain. Before I could begin telling her how sorry I was, she looked at me with tears in her eyes and said: "John, you're going to have to be more careful about how you roll me over or I won't let you put me in that coffin."  That type of gallows humor may not appeal to some, but it remains one of my treasured memories of Gwen's unflagging courage and ability to make light of even the most dire circumstances.

Gwen loved it when I would write poems for her.  On my birthday, shortly after that magic evening when we realized that, as Gwen put it, "maybe we should think about getting married," she surprised me with a birthday card that revealed a romantic, poetic side of her that she didn't often show:


It was tucked away,
among our treasured letters;
simple, a piece of plain white paper
carefully folded into quadrants;
on the front is written:

Happy Birthday “Hon”

Inside, her carefully printed words
fill my heart even more today:

I searched and searched
for a card for one so
perfect as you but could
find none to compare.

It is probably a good
thing that you can’t see your-
self in the mirror of my
heart.  You’d probably
be “conceited.”

Happy Birthday
to  the “perfect” guy!!

ALL my Love,

In my hand I hold the most perfect
poem ever written.

John A. Bayerl, September 15, 2011

Living with you was never boring, Dear, I see the legacy of your humor and poetic nature in each of our children, and now our grandchildren.  

Thursday, October 27, 2011

First encounter

Perhaps, by writing about some of those moments when "time stood still" for Gwen and me it will help to ease the way November 12 will be experienced.

Ours wasn't one of those fabled "love at first sight" encounters.  We liked each other, and dated after our initial meeting, but continued dating others.  Surprisingly, I wasn't crushed when Gwen told me that she had dated the same guy all during her break break at Christmas but saw it as a challenge to become someone she would see exclusively.  I too had dated other women during that time, but was still feeling fragile as the result of a previous love affair that had gone badly.  Over time, we became fascinated with each other.  I knew that I was hooked when I began to "stalk" her.  Everyone knows how that goes; I knew what her schedule of classes was, and would conveniently arrange to be at the foot of the long stairway in Pierce Hall when she came down from her history class.  "I didn't know you had a class this hour."   "Could I help you carry your books?"  "What are your plans for the weekend?"

Later in the spring we were what a that time was called "going steady."  I asked Gwen to attend the dinner dance at my fraternity, and then heard that a guy from another fraternity was going to ask her to go to his.  It was quite unlike me, but I immediately sought out that guy and let him know in no uncertain terms that as far as I was concerned Gwen was off limits to him.  I told Gwen about it the night we fell in love.  She said that she didn't like the guy and wouldn't have accepted his invitation, but I could see in her eyes that she liked what I had done.

One night Gwen and I were "studying" in the library.  Actually, she was teaching me how to write shorthand, I would have to pass the class if I wanted to become a  business teacher.  She said that she couldn't concentrate because I gave her too much to think about herself.  She wrote me a  note in shorthand that I still have.  In it she mentions "what happened" last weekend, and said the she wasn't ready to talk about it; she was confused about it.  What had happened was a moment when we became simply who we were; two people who were meant for each other.  We had been invited to a party at a friend's house.  The house was in a grove of pine trees, and I parked beneath one of them.  I'd like to say that there was a bright full moon, but, as often happens in moments like  these, we remember the event with great clarity, but the details are sketchy.  A detail I do remember is that we both became aware of each other's presence in a way we had never before experienced,  and began to kiss.  The kiss became a passionate embrace, and that was the moment when nothing else in the world mattered.  There's a line in the song, When a Man Loves a Woman about seeing your unborn children in her eyes.  When we pulled apart and looked into each other's eyes, I don't know if I was seeing our unborn children, but I was seeing something I had never seen before.  "Should we go into the party?" I asked.  "No," she replied.

Everyone has those moments like we had, Dear, moments when being with each other is all that matters.  It is comforting now to look back at some of ours and see them for what they were--brief moments when two ordinary people felt the grace of the gift of an extraordinary love.  By losing ourself in each other we became who we were.

Oh, Anne is going to be staying at our house for the rest of this week while she works in Detroit.  When I awoke this morning it felt good to hear someone stirring in the house and smell coffee brewing.  And, yes, I did remember to get a card for her adoption birthday.  We are still negotiating a gift.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Moments of love.

Recently I've participated in a book club where we discussed Thomas Merton's book, The Seven Storey Mountain.  The person who led the discussion of the book, a professor in the School of Business at UM, sent me a  quote from Merton: "My true meaning and worth are shown to me not in my estimation of myself, but in the eyes of the one who loves me; and that one must love me as I am, with my faults and limitations, revealing to me the truth that these faults and limitations cannot destroy my worth in their eyes; and that I am therefore valuable as a person, in spite of my shortcomings.. ."  Perhaps it is because November 12 is approaching, the day that marks one year since Gwen died.  Whatever the reason, I've been thinking about what Gwen meant to me and how I felt when I was with her.  A short answer is that she meant everything to me, and that I felt complete when she was with me.  A longer answer involves remembering profound, defining moments in our relationship.  These are moments when the chatter and clatter of life fades into the background and we become simply who we are.  Four of those moments were when our three children were born and when adoption procedures were finalized and Anne Marie came to be part of our family.   Only those who mourn the loss of someone they truly love can know what it is like to be without that person.  Likewise, only those who have welcomed new members into their families can know what it is like to feel the joyful awe, (Or, is it awful joy?)  that accompanies the moment when a new life becomes their responsibility.  

Gwen and I shared several moments when the only thing that mattered was what was happening then and there.  The first of those moments was when we looked into each other's eyes and saw something there that we had never seen with anyone else.  The words "I love you" that tumbled from my mouth at that instant were the most sincere and spontaneous words that I have ever spoken. Fourteen months after that, on our wedding night, before falling asleep, my whole world consisted of Gwen's body next to mine and I knew that this was how it would be for the rest of our lives.  Another time, definitely joyful, was when we were reunited in Portland, Oregon, after Gwen had spent two weeks at home with our two children and her parents.

Other moments weren't always joyful.  There was the moment when I held Gwen in my arms in the hospital after the devastating diagnosis of diabetes and the delivery of stillborn child she had been carrying.  There was the moment we sat in Gwen's doctor's office and heard the word cancer.  Lastly, there was the moment when I saw Gwen lying in bed, eyes closed, mouth open, no longer breathing.  Each one of these moments deserves to be considered in its own right with much reflection and contemplation.  It will give me something to do in the days ahead.

What I remember most about these moment, Dear, is the constancy of a love that ran through each one.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Beatles Revisited

From early on poems were an important part of our relationship.  I read a lot,  and found it fun to rhyme words, sometimes I would put them together into what I called a poem.  Gwen enjoyed my poems,  and would occasionally ask me to write one for her.  It was always difficult for me to do my rhyming under that kind of pressure; but I would always try to please her.  During my year as a commercial teacher in Stephenson my students would also ask me to write poems for certain occasions.  I must have done OK on that because they always asked for more.

Much later in my life I met Dick Mc Mullen, an English teacher and accomplished poet, who introduced me to and encouraged me to simply write what was in my heart--free verse.  Later still, Dave Stringer and Stan Bidlack, both superb writers, also encouraged me.  Dave said, "Write something  every day.  Now and then you will surprise yourself and write something."     Dick was the editor of monthly newsletter that was circulated among our local chapter of the Michigan Education Association.  If one wishes to see what one has written in print, it is good to know an  editor.  This is the first of my  poems that Dick published:


Let it be
but  don't let it alone
the person no one sees
but you

A little boy weeping
sometimes a woman
afraid, unsure
but trying

to homogenize without pasteurizing
what I see with what you see
creating real
and free.

A part of, yet
apart from the person
everyone sees.


John A. Bayerl, circa 1980

We talked about this poem, Dear.  You told me  that it moved you.  I told you that it was about a counseling session but could be about any genuine human encounter, the miracle of our love being a  prime example of that..  Today it has taken on more meaning.  Our friend, Mary,  returned my call from last night, and cried as she told me about receiving my telephone message while she was at the bedside of a thirteen-year old girl who died of leukemia.     "You never call me at night," she said, "it felt so good to know that your were thinking about me at that moment."   She also told me that she felt your presence with her all night long.  Then I cried.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Appreciating what I had and have.

 Often,  I awake with a song going through my mind.  This morning it was Today by the New Christy Minstrels.  "Today while the blossoms still cling to the vine I'l taste your strawberries, I'll drink your sweet wine. . ."  I looked at one of the many pictures of Gwen in my room, and felt that same longing and loving tug that I so often feel.  I wondered why the song had such a strong hold on me until I did some research on it.  The song was released in 1964 and rose right to the top of the charts.  Gwen and I were in the first year of our marriage then--mystery solved.

This morning I had breakfast with an old friend whose wife died of cancer a few months before Gwen.  He and I relate well to each other, and it is heartening to talk with him and discover that he experiences many of the same things that I do.  One of the things we talked about was the war that goes on inside us as we work through our grief and at the same time try to be grateful and appreciative of the many years we were able to share love with our spouse.  This was again evident Saturday night and yesterday when Brooke filled our house and my heart with joy.  She so enjoyed "playing" with grandma, and I try hard to fill that  void, knowing of course that it's an impossible task--only grandma could love Brooke the way grandma did.

Brooke and I attended choir practice and Mass yesterday morning.  For more than two hours she patiently sat with me, first through choir practice, and then for Mass.  At one point she even whispered to me that I have a pretty voice.  We then went straight to the movie theater where we saw "A Dolphin Tale."   We sat in the same seats where Gwen and I used to sit; having that sweet eight-year old girl with me made it so much easier.  Then we went home and made soup; I chopped vegetables and Brooke stirred.  After John came to get her and they left for home the house  didn't feel quite as empty as it sometimes does.

I have been worried about my oldest sister Cookie after hearing that she had fallen and fractured some bones in her body.  She called me later today, and I was relieved that the injuries aren't nearly as bad as was originally  thought.  Another bit of good news was when someone from WUOM called and apologized that the day sponsorship on Saturday, in loving memory of the day 50 years ago when Gwen and I first met, had not gone exactly as planned, and he offered me another day.  It will be November 12.

You were there with Brooke and me, Dear.  I'll never be the grandparent that you were; it was your passion.  But, it is good to have you as a role model.  

Saturday, October 22, 2011


It was homecoming weekend at what was then called Northern Michigan College.  It was the first semester of my senior year.  I was struggling through classes like shorthand, having just switched my major from business administration to business education.  Rather than preparing to be a captain of industry, the availability of National Defense Education Act loans helped me decide to make a difference by being a teacher--a decision I have never regretted.  Gwen was also a business major; she was a scholarship student, and also worked as a student assistant at the campus health center, that may account for her decision later in life to complete her college education and earn a bachelor's degree in nursing.  She was way better at shorthand than I would ever be; in fact she was better at all the courses in the business curriculum than I.

On a clear, crisp October evening some fraternity brothers and I decided to visit the place where the sorority to which Gwen belonged was building their homecoming float.  Ostensibly we there to offer some technical support and help out a little, but everyone knew we were there to "check  out the girls." Part of the construction of the float involved stuffing paper napkins through chicken wire, and I remember seeing Gwen there as part of the work crew.  She looked familiar; the year before I had served as president of the campus Newman Club, and I had seen her sitting in the front row at a meeting I conducted; looking all cute, petite and full of life and energy.  But, I had never been formally introduced to her.

When work on the float was competed for the night,  some of the girls, Gwen included, asked for a ride back to their dormitory.  My friend, Smitty, in whose car I had ridden over, offered to transport some of them.  I got into the back seat of the car, and, as the saying goes, the rest is history:

MENDING A BROKEN HEART, October 22, 1961

There I was,
minding my own business,
tending to the broken heart
left behind by a girl named Betty Jo.

Out of nowhere she crawled into
the back seat of the car
sat herself on my lap
put her arms around my neck
and told me that her name was Gwen.
I told her that was a pretty name
for a pretty girl.
She never minced words from the start—
“that sounds like a line,” she said.

My heart began to mend that day
when, sassy as could be, she put herself
in the middle of my life—
then became my life—
“always and forever,” she said,
and we both liked it that way.

A year later, we called it our first anniversary.

We looked forward to many firsts,
never dreaming of this one—
the first time we are apart on this earth,
on our anniversary.   

 Now the heart she mended
is once again broken.
I can’t find a line that fits the situation,

John A. Bayerl, October 22, 2011

How fortunate we were, Dear, to have found each other on that fall evening.  Not much later we discovered that we shared the same beliefs about faith, marriage, children, life in general--we could talk about anything with each other.  And, we did.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Tomorrow is a special day.

Tomorrow is a special day in more ways than one.  On Thursday night, October 22, 1961, some friends and I decided to take a break from working on our fraternity's entry in the homecoming parade on Saturday.  We decided to visit a barn where one of the sororities would be working on their float.  That was  when I first met Gwen.  More about that tomorrow.  In honor of that occasion I have taken out a day sponsorship on WUOM, 91.7, The University of Michigan public radio station.  A special message I wrote will be read six times during the day.  Friends have asked me when those times are: 6:59 a. m., 9:59 a. m., 12:59 p. m., 2:59 p. m., 4:59 p. m., and 7:59 p. m.

At 5:00 I'll attend a Mass that is being offered in Gwen's name.  After that, Brooke is coming to spend a night with me.  We're thinking maybe a movie buttered popcorn and ju jubis.  I can't think of a nicer way to keep Gwen with us.  At Thanksgiving I'll continue our tradition of having the grand kids go with me to purchase a toy for the Toys for Tots drive.  Gwen loved that too.

Fifty years ago tonight, Dear, I went to bed not knowing that on the next day my life would be altered in the best possible way--thank you for the gift of your love and all that followed.  You once said this to me:  "I love you dearly and miss you terribly," now it's my turn to say it to you. 

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Little things: big reminders

The feeling I get when some small thing reminds me of Gwen is a mixture of gratitude and sorrow.  The temperature was in the 40s this morning when I headed over to Pioneer High to spend an hour with Nolan in the AP Physics class he teaches first hour.  The car was cold when I got in, and I could hear Gwen telling me to open the vents on the dashboard and put the fan on high so that she could quickly warm up, then snuggling close to me to get warm.  Am I grateful that we were able to share moments like that?  Of course I am.   Am I sad that we are no longer able to share them?  Of course I am.

Later in the morning I had an appointment to get my teeth cleaned.  I remembered to brush my teeth before heading over to the dentist; as Gwen would have me do.  It never made sense to me that I should clean my teeth before going to get them cleaned; but I never raised that issue with Gwen.  She had beautiful teeth--pretty hard to argue with that.  I thought about my lovely wife as I brushed my teeth.

On the way home from the dentist's office a song by Tracy Grammer came up on my i-Pod.  It's was a sentimental, sad song entitled It's Always Winter When He (She) Is Gone.  I said it out loud in the car: "You can say that again!"

This was one of those days when my calendar was filled.  In early afternoon I had my singing lesson, which went very well.  As I walked through the parking lot afterwards I was singing the song Kyle and I had worked on.  When I got into the car I felt Gwen's presence in a way that made aware that she had enjoyed my singing and was happy that I was taking lessons.  

One more thing on the calendar today, Dear.  My friend Tom and I have gotten the Men's Club at church going again, and that's tonight.  Sister Dorothy was kind enough to help us get going, and she will be with us tonight.  I know you love that; a nun working with a men's club.  I can hear you laughing now; you always had that little anti-establishment streak in you.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

. . . .to become a deeper person.

It's a cloudy, rainy, very dark day; the kind of day it must have been when Gwen wrote this in a letter to me: "Today is just miserable.  It's raining and you're not here."  Today as I read those words I am taken by their sheer simplicity and the raw emotion they reveal.  At the time  she wrote them she had no way of knowing how much comfort they would bring me on a day like today; and they are as true now as they were then.

All morning I've had that "I still can't believe it's true that Gwen is dead." kind of feeling.  It's been almost a year, yet I have no clear picture in my head of what I look like without her.  Marje, a friend in a bereavement group I attend, said it well while we were sharing pictures of our beloved:  "I have no pictures of the life I have now."  Those pictures are slowly beginning to develop in my life.  It will eventually be a collage of pictures of an individual who is grateful that he shared a love with someone who made sure that none of his rainy days were miserable.  The person in those pictures will look happy, but at times there will also be a sad, far-away look in his eyes.  I'm reminded again of a quote by Oscar Wilde: " . . . .to become a deeper person is the privilege of those who suffer."  Gwen wants me to be happy, and I know I will be, but in a deeper, more meaningful way, because of days like today.

Thank you, Dear, for allowing your poetic self to write those words to me long ago.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011


The emotional roller-coaster ride continues.  This morning my spirits were high as I observed Kara performing her duties as a student teacher in a second-grade classroom.  She and Becky, her cooperating teacher, had prepared the class in advance, and when I walked into the classroom they all said: "Good morning, Dr. B."  It's been a while since I've been that moved.  Crying is good.  For the rest of the hour I was privileged to once again see someone in action who loves what she does and does it well.  As I watched, I reflected that the many current critics of public education would be well served by spending a week in a classroom like the one I was in.  I used my i-Phone to take a snippet of a video of the class room to use in my report later.  I thought to myself: "Gwen will enjoy seeing. . .Oops.

Yesterday's experience was similar.  After playing nine hole with Ed, he went home, and I stayed and played the back nine by myself.  It was quiet on the course, there weren't many other players, and I enjoyed being alone, having my conversations with Gwen.  As I was coming down the eighteenth fairway I was hit by a thought I frequently have about how unfair it is that I was in good health, enjoying myself, and Gwen wasn't there to enjoy it with me.  Sadness overtook me, and I had no choice but to lean my head on the steering wheel of the cart and have a good cry.  Afterwards I felt better, somehow more alive, and once again engaged in the internal dialogue that ends up with me reminding myself to be grateful for the many years of life and love that Gwen and I shared.  And then there are our four beautiful children, my brothers and sister, Gwen's brother and sister, and my many relatives and friends.  Many people aren't at all that fortunate.  Be thankful, John!

One of the things I am grateful for is Gwen's straightforward, in a confused sort of way, manner of expressing the love that she and I shared from the start:


“I can’t explain,
it’s  just the way it is;”
is how you described
the miracle of our love.

There was never any doubt,
never anything to explain,
it was just the way it was—
John A. Bayerl, September 4, 2011

We move forward, Dear; not always in a straight line, it's more that roller coaster.  

Monday, October 17, 2011


So, what's it like; being without Gwen this Monday morning?  I awakened to sunshine streaming in the window and shining bright on my favorite picture of her.  It's one of those sunny, clear, crisp days that she loved.  Sometimes I wonder if there will come a time when I'm not constantly remembering things about her.  Then I remind myself that there are fifty years worth of memories; it should not be a surprise that they pop up out of nowhere, like mushrooms after a warm rain in May.  This summer, when I emptied the glove box of our car, I discovered a tube of lipstick that Gwen always kept there:


Her lipstick tube remains
in the car glove box
where she left it;
we never went anywhere
without it.

Peruvian Bronze seems like
a strange color for those red lips
I once kissed;
I twist it open,
see where it matched
the contours of her lips—
knowing that it once
massaged her lips 
brings her near.

Brings back the many times
before church,  a movie, a visit with friends;
it was the last thing she did;
pull down the visor,
look in the mirror, trace her lips,
blot with a tissue.

I can hear her gaily announce:
“OK, I’m ready, let’s go.”
And go we did.

John A. Bayerl, October 17, 2011

How could I have been annoyed, Dear, when you insisted on putting on lipstick before we went in to the meeting, or doctor appointment or whenever you thought it was important to look your best?  You wanted me to be proud of you--as if I weren't already.  

Saturday, October 15, 2011


Gwen and I enjoyed going for a walk together; especially this time  of the year, on a clear, crisp autumn day.  We'd amble along, kicking the leaves and talking about the things people who love being married talk about.  As I'm writing this the sun is breaking through some clouds and shining bright through the oak tree in the back yard. It is beginning to look a bit barren even though oaks are stubborn and hold onto their leaves for a long time.  I can imagine them standing tall in golden glory and lording it over the naked maples.  Nature has a way of keeping things in balance, and, in the spring, the oaks and maples will be equal.  This poem is about that:


The signs are everywhere:
purple  asters in fading bloom
leaves gather on the lawn
jeans replace shorts
the smell of fireplace smoke
south-bound geese honking overhead
the taste of cider and donuts.

These signs of approaching winter
were welcomed by us
as we strolled through
quickly-darkening fall evenings
holding hands like school children
warmed against the early chill
by the certainty of our love.

This October is different,
the chill in the air fills my heart.
I do not welcome what lies ahead
on that November day
when we no longer owned the world.

 John A. Bayerl, September 15, 2011

I take some comfort, Dear, in knowing that, faith aside, even nature tells us that temporary beauty must pass away in order for a more beautiful new life to emerge.  

Friday, October 14, 2011

Free Association Friday

There's a real touch of autumn in the air today.  It's cloudy, windy and chilly.  That also means there aren't many days left to play golf, so. . .out I went at 7:30 this morning, hoping to beat the rain forecast for later in the day.  Not only did I beat the rain, I also beat everyone else to the golf course.  My friend, Ed, wimped out on me because of the weather, but I enjoyed the time alone.  It was another of those time when I strongly felt Gwen's presence; I could hear her cheering good shots, teasing me about missed putts, just being there with me.  It's that bittersweet thing again because I long to have her actually sitting next to me.  There goes that sinking feeling in my stomach.

As I was driving home, the rain began.  Lately I've been thinking about chicken noodle soup, and what better day than today to make that favorite of Gwen's and mine.  There's a Meijer's Thrifty Acres store on the way home where I got some carrots, celery, parsley, and, of course, a chicken.  The soup is on the stove right now, and the smell is as delicious as the soup will be later.  There are always those associations--Gwen would compliment me on my chicken noodle soup and tell me that her dad liked it because I put big chunks of chicken in it.

One thing leads to another, and my eyes misted over as I thought about  how I'll miss our dog, Max, when I'm removing the meat from the carcass.  The sight of me making chicken noodle soup was a big deal to him.  He would lie on the floor at my feet, pretending to be bored and disinterested in what I was doing.  He would sure come to life when I tossed him some skin or other scraps.  Gwen's voice was in the background, warning me not to give him any bones that might get caught in his throat.  Oh, the sweet memories.  He was a good dog, and I miss him.  (Don't get excited, kids, it's not going to happen.)

I have to remember to talk with my brothers and sisters more often.  Last night I talked with Andy and Cindy; it was good to get caught up on what's going on with them.  Anne's job had taken her to Boston, and they had dinner together last night.

Call it what you will; as I follow my thoughts and feelings they always lead back to you, Dear.  I've been working on a poem about autumn without you; it will be ready tomorrow.  (I just got choked up when I realized that you not only help me write the poems, you also enjoy reading them.)  That's the thing about a poem; good, bad or indifferent, it's something from the heart that is unique and didn't exist before.

Thursday, October 13, 2011


By now I should be used to how easy it is to dance two separate dances through life.  There's the fast, fun dance; the polka.  I can hear Gwen urging me to spin faster and faster.  That's the dance I'll dance today when I'm out there in the world; attending a meeting of The University of Michigan Retirees Association, where I'll learn about insurance benefits I'm entitled to as a surviving spouse/beneficiary.   (I will always hate how cold and sterile that sounds: "surviving spouse/beneficiary."  Makes me want to shout:  "Hey, I'm John, not some legalese phrase;  Gwen was the best thing that ever happened to me, and I'll never think of her as someone whom I'm surviving!")  Later today I'll again do that lively dance when I am with my group of  Story Time Players at an elementary school, hamming it up and reading about the three little pigs.  (There is no pun intended by saying hamming it up with the tree little pigs.)

For the rest of today I'll do the slow, dreamy waltz; remembering the soft warmth of my perfect partner as we slowly circled around the dance floor.  Today it is cloudy and cold--a perfect day to stay inside for a while and let God and Gwen speak to me:


Today, as leaves drift past my window,
I know that our certain love
warms against the oncoming winter;
Like the bulbs I planted Sunday,
I await the spring,

John A. Bayerl, October 13, 2011

It doesn't matter if the dance is fast or slow, Dear, it will always be with you.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Self-improvement Wednesday

In spite of what can only be called a self-improvement day for me, at one point I found myself sobbing.  It was while I was taking laundry out of the dryer and folding it.  Gwen always complimented me on how carefully and well I folded tee shirts.  As I moved an exceptionally well folded stack of tee shirts into the laundry basket I looked up the stairs and realized, it felt like almost for the first time, that when I brought them upstairs Gwen would not be there to fuss over how well I had folded this week's batch of tee shirts.  As I write about moments like that, I know it is important for me to face them and work them through if I am to continue being the strong person Gwen wants me to be.  Easy to say; never easy to do.

That wasn't the only "self-improvement"m thing I did today.  Bright and early, at  8:00 a. m., I met with Kyle for my singing lesson.  With each lesson I become more aware of how the discipline and skills it takes to sing well  can be used in other areas of my life--breathing properly, for example.

At noon I had my golf lesson.  Today it went very well, and I was again reminded of how the discipline it takes to hit a golf ball efficiently carries over to other areas of my life; standing strong and tall comes to mind.

Right after golf it was time for my memoir-writing group.  Today I wrote about Gwen's dad's funeral.  Barney and I got off to a rocky start.  I took his gruff, unequivocal NO! when I asked for Gwen's hand in marriage as a challenge to earn his respect and trust, and over time I was able to do just that.  I grew to love him, and I miss him.

Lots of sweet reminders of you today, Dear.  I particularly enjoyed remembering how we schemed against your dad to convince him that we were ready to accept the responsibilities of marriage.  It was a great moment when he told you that he would hold the ladder when you eloped.  

Tuesday, October 11, 2011


The way I am feeling tonight is best described as "blue."  It's been a pretty good day, so I shouldn't be feeling blue.  But, I am.  

This morning I played golf with Don, who attended a support group with me a while back.  We played a course I hadn't played since the summer Bob and Jeanne were married; when  we played it with Bob and his dad.  The course we played is in Whitmore Lake, and, on the way home I took the route that Gwen and I always took on our way to and from work when we lived on Baseline Lake.  As usual,  sad feelings of disbelief were my constant companion.  Later in the afternoon I met with Dave and during my talk with him I said that those moments when I realize that I am alone and that Gwen isn't waiting at home for me are like getting punched in the stomach.  

Driving down that old familiar road today, with the leaves on the trees in full color, reminded me of this summer, when I visited what had once been the farm where we grew up.  At that time I made some notes about what it was like to visit a place that was at once eerily unfamiliar and yet totally familiar.  This is a poem that kind of describes what that was like:


Back when we walked to school
the road was just called 320;
now the sign marks it as
County Road 320,
Birch Creek No. 6.

How many times did we walk to school
down that road?
Sometimes we ran from one light pole
to the next, used them as markers,
it helped make the distance seem less.

The long driveway to where our home once stood
is now an abbreviated cul-de-sac,
the big hill that we slid on in the winter
has shrunk into a knoll.

The light poles that marked our travels
are still there, and
five cedar trees where driveway meets road
still stand guard, marking the spot
where we waited for the bus
that took us to worlds far away;
where it didn't matter
if a few miles of patched and pitted asphalt
are called 320, or County Road 320,
or, Birch Creek No. 6.

Besides, those of us who walked it
knew it was the Birch Creek Crossroad.

John A. Bayerl, October 11, 2011

The woman who cleans our house was here today, Dear.  She told me that she always makes an effort to be sure that room downstairs is extra clean because she knew you liked it that way.  She also told me that when her boss asked her where she was today she said, "John and Gwen's place, it will always be Gwen's place too."  It always makes my heart so happy when people who knew you tell me things about you.  

Monday, October 10, 2011

Balloons and avocados

Yesterday, on Gwen's birthday, I tried to make the day a celebration--beginning with wishing her a happy birthday.  I bought a helium filled balloon that said Happy Birthday! on it.  At 7:40 a. m., the official time of sunrise, I took the balloon out the front door and released it.  I watched it drift along over our house, then over the back yard, then across the neighbor's house and on over the neighborhood until it became a speck, and then I couldn't see it anymore.  It was then that I came to the realization that although I couldn't see the balloon it was still out there--much as is the case with my sweetheart.  Faith.

I wasn't finished.  After attending the Mass at noon that was for Gwen's intention, where I sang in the choir better than I've sung before, I returned home and planted some flowers.  Last fall Gwen and I planted some crocus bulbs; she always wanted to be able to see the first blooms of the spring.  The four hyacinth bulbs that I planted yesterday will be a welcome reminder next spring.  Hope.   In a back corner of the yard there is a bare spot that Gwen always asked me to fill.  It gets a lot of sunshine, so I planted a rosebush there.  Roses played a special part in our courtship--when I look back there now and see the rosebush I am reminded of some very special times.  Love.

Whenever we backed out of our driveway Gwen often said that we needed some yellow color in the flower bed; I planted a yellow mum there yesterday.   When I left for lunch today I felt Gwen next to me, approving of how well the yellow  mum complements the purple asters.

My day was made so much easier yesterday when each of our children called me.  They knew it wasn't going to be an easy day for me, and were there for me.   Their mother's love and concern for me lives on through them.

Today I had lunch with Dave McNeil, a chaplain for the Cancer Center for St. Joseph Mercy Hospital, where Gwen received all of her treatments.  The very first time that Gwen went in for chemotherapy we were still in a state of shock and didn't know what to expect.  That was when we first met Dave.  He sat with us, and said, "So far, cancer has had you reeling; now we are going to circle the wagons and fight back."   That became Gwen's mantra; it played a large part in the courageous battle she waged against cancer.  Dave recounted how, even during her last days, Gwen always put others first, asking how they were doing before talking about herself.  He also said that even today people in the groups he  runs who knew her talk about what a great role model she was.  It makes my heart feel better whenever I hear things like that.

We had lunch today at a new dining facility at the hospital and I had  a California Salad.  As the chef prepared the ingredients for the salad he included a large quantity of chunks of avocado.  Immediately, I was reminded of how much Gwen loved avocados.  It's always the little things. . .the picture of you on the beach that I posted yesterday is one of my favorites, especially the way you are drowning in the jacket I lent you to wear on a cold day at the ocean.  You loved wearing my things.

I cried a little while I ate that salad today, Dear, you weren't there to enjoy it with me.  I know you would have made me ask for even more avocado.  

Saturday, October 8, 2011

On the eve of a birthday.

This is the eve of Gwen's birthday.  Numbers don't mean as much to me as they once might have.   It would have been nice to throw a big party for Gwen on her 69th birthday tomorrow.  It would have been nice to celebrate 50 years of marriage.  I no longer resent not having reached those milestones on our journey of love--they are just numbers.  What numbers don't measure are the uncountable moments shared by two people who accepted the God-given grace of a lasting love.

As I write this I reflect that it's hard not to seem pretentious.  There are millions of people who have received the same grace and experience the same love.  Sadly, there are also millions who have not known the joy, and the suffering, that true love has to offer.  In my case, it has only been since Gwen's death that I have come to fully appreciate what Gwen and I often spoke about--we have been given the miracle of love.

Among the millions of moments that Gwen and I shared, there are two that remain prominent in my mind and heart.  The first was when Barney, Gwen's dad, place her hand in mine at the altar on our wedding day with a gentleness that I had seldom seen before.  Then, as Gwen and I looked into each other's eyes, we saw no fear, no doubt, no questioning--we saw confidence, certainty and whatever questions we may have had being answered.  Most of all, we saw love.  To me, this is perhaps the real miracle; having a moment, that was ours and ours alone, to cherish forever.

The second moment, seemingly diametrically opposed, was a year ago on Gwen's birthday.  Our whole family was home, and our children lovingly carried Gwen in her wheelchair up the stairs to the front door and down the steps to the car.  We then drove to the theater and saw the  movie Secretariat.  There are many sweet moments to remember about that day, but the one I most remember is when I sat next to Gwen in the theater and looked down into her eyes.  The strength, conviction, hope--and the love--were there as surely as they had been on our wedding day.  Looking back on that now, I also recall a sense of vulnerability about the love of my life that I hadn't seen before then.  I reached out and held her hand, and felt once again the nearness and intensity of the miracle of our love that we shared on that June morning long ago.

Tomorrow at sunrise, Dear, I'm sending a birthday balloon your way.   The rosebush and hyacinth bulbs that I'll plant later will honor the beauty of the love we share and the hope for what awaits.  Tomorrow we'll celebrate not only your birthday, but also your life.

Friday, October 7, 2011

A life beautifully lived.

Friday nights continue to be difficult.  My mind and heart go back to the time, now almost 50 years ago, when  I would end a busy work week and drive to Gaastra to spend the weekend with Gwen and her parents and Patti.  Those were always such joyous reunions--I can still see her waiting at the door to greet me with a hug and a kiss.

Fast forward to 2010, an unusually warm and beautiful day in November, I come home from the golf course and find Gwen resting comfortably.  She greets me and says she is happy to see me.  We enjoy the mango/pineapple smoothey I brought home for her, and then she begins to cough; things go downhill from there, and Friday night now becomes a time when, rather than greet the love of my life joyfully, I sadly say goodbye to her; never again to see her on this earth.

Gee this sounds so melodramatic; yet, I think that all the ordinary people living ordinary lives have similar stories to share.  Shortly after Gwen's death, our son, Mike, said to me, "Dad, death is very democratic."  There isn't a day that goes by when I don't think of those words.  I've also come to the realization that, in spite of the temptation to fixate on the ugly finality of death on that one Friday night, all those joyous Friday reunions are also part of Gwens' and my story, as are the countless joys we shared during all of our life together.  Death ends; love lives on.  Death cannot destroy the happiness seen in the pictures posted on this page.

Today was also a day of inspiration for me.  One of my friends, Jeff, from a caregiver group that I attended for the duration of Gwen's illness, invited me and Ed to play golf with him and a friend.  It was at a course we hadn't played before, so we quickly agreed to play.  The weather was great, and I played better than I'd ever played before on a challenging course, but the real inspiration came from meeting and playing golf with Jeff's friend.  He was a successful lawyer until a rare illness overtook his body and what began as a lung infection ultimately caused him lose his extremities.  He has no fingers and wears prostheses on his legs, yet plays golf in the 90s.  He has a superb sense of humor, we talked about the Tiger game last night and how nerve-wracking it was, and he said that he not only chewed off his fingernails, but also his fingers.  Just a wonderful person to know.

It is always heartening for me to talk with not only relatives, but also friends who knew Gwen as she really was.  Jeff was always a special, loving and caring person for Gwen and me.  On cold winter nights, when we arrived for the meeting, he was always at the door, eager to help Gwen get into her wheelchair.  After the meeting was over, he was also there to help Gwen get back into the car.  Today he commented on the dogged determination with which Gwen attended those meetings with me.  "The two of you were an inspiration to us all," he said.  Now I feel blessed in being able to provide comfort and support for him as he helps his wife in her ongoing battle with cancer.  I find that to be so comforting.

An interesting sidelight to today had to do with the fact that midway through the first nine holes Ed discovered that he had lost his new Droid Cell Phone.  Understandably, he became distraught, and did not play the second nine holes.  This evening he called to tell me that someone on had found his phone on the golf course and turned it in at the pro shop.  Needless to say, he was tremendously relieved.  Anyone who has ever looked for a lost golf ball can appreciate how low the probabilities are that someone would find a cell phone buried in the grass.  A happy ending to a distressing events.

Tomorrow it will be nice to look forward to a Saturday without a football game at home.  I won't know what it's like to just lie around the house and get caught up on chores.

Sunday is your birthday, Dear; it will be a day to celebrate, as is written on the candle holder that Mario and Flo sent us: "a life beautifully lived and a heart deeply loved."   Today I was once again reminded of the lasting impact you've had on those who knew and loved you, and, along with that, of my intent to honor you with this blog.  On this Friday night I celebrate and give thanks for the mystery of  the gift of the love we shared.  It lives on.

Thursday, October 6, 2011


Today the weather is once again spectacularly beautiful.  As I sit here in my easy chair, the one that Gwen always sat in, I can't help but feel that now familiar mixture of feelings; joy at the beauty of the world I am still enjoying, and sadness that Gwen isn't here to enjoy it with me.  This is the kind of day when we would have enjoyed a visit to the cider mill in Dexter.  I could drive out there by myself, but that would be just another of those "what's the point?" kind of experiences.

I've been thinking today of how Gwen and I completed each other--psychologically, spiritually, emotionally and sexually--I know that life goes on, it's just that, for now at least, I still feel so incomplete when I remember and celebrate the gift that Gwen and I were given.

Last night I attended a dinner party that a friend and his wife held.  There were some interesting people there, some whom I knew or who knew me through my connection with the Ann Arbor Schools.  One of the guests is a former dean of the largest college at UM.  His wife died a few years ago, and it was encouraging to hear him say that he continues to do well by himself. I was seated next to a woman who lived next door.  I suppose I can expect more of that sort of thing as I continue trying to live and grow as Gwen wants me to do.  It's just that Gwen made me feel so complete. . .

This morning when I awoke this song was going through my mind, it was a hit song for the New Christy Minstrels, but I like the version by John Denver:  <>

I remember going to a John Denver concert at Hill Auditorium with you, Dear.  It was when he was just getting started; only him and his guitar alone on the stage.   A million tomorrows will all disappear,  'ere I forget. . .  

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Our lives do pass away.

It is good to stay busy, however, some days I feel as though I'm busier than I like to be.  This morning I met a my friend, Mike Murphy, for breakfast.  After that I attended a meeting and luncheon with retired educators in the Washtenaw County area.  Immediately after that I attended my memoir-writing class.  Presently I'm home taking a bit of a break before having dinner with another friend, coincidentally, named Michael, and his wife.  Days like this are good now and then, but I have also learned to cherish whatever down time I may have.  It is important to have some time to just be alone and get some rest and relaxation.

My writing group was fun today.  We are getting to know each other as our stories reveal various aspects of our character and personality.  It is a very diverse group.  One person writes about her experiences as an AP English teacher, another about her childhood in England during World War II, one of the women writes about growing up on a farm in Georgia, and so it goes.  Today I wrote about my trip to Iron River this summer, and my visit to the motel, now in ruins, where Gwen and I spent our wedding night.  I'm glad to say that I am once again enjoying doing this.

Our beautiful Indian Summer weather continues.  The two small maples in front of our house have begun turning bright red.  I received this poem today, and it fits my mood:

Our Lives Pass Away

Summer sunlight
glitters on the water.

Sweet colors of fall
drift down and land
on my new woodpile.

Winter is full of snow
and cold, but inside
the woodstove glows.

Then spring again
Our lives pass away.

"Our Lives Pass Away" by David Budbill, from Happy Life. © Copper Canyon Press, 2011. Reprinted with permission. 

Yes, our lives do pass away, Dear, and today I've been reminded by my story about the crumbling motel where we spent our first night together, as well as the bright red leaves on the maples in front of our house, that there is a rhythm and certainty to our life and death on earth that you and I now experience to its fullest.  We would have enjoyed many more years together, but remorse over that can't be allowed to diminish the grace of the gift of love that we enjoyed for so many years, and how that love continues to shine in the world.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011


Today I was downstairs folding laundry when I thought I heard someone walking on the stairs.  Imagining that there was someone walking in an empty house would be scary to most people.  There was no one there, of course, it was just something in our old house stretching and adjusting itself when the sun shone full on the roof.  What happened to me, however, was not fear, instead I felt comforted.  It reminded me of another endearing thing about Gwen.

During the time Gwen was ill, except for maybe the last year or so, she would sometimes surprise me by quietly sneaking up the five carpeted stairs to where I was sitting, reading or watching TV.  She would come behind my chair, put her hands on my shoulders, kiss me on top of the head, and whisper "I love you."  Those were always such special times; I get goose bumps even now just thinking about them.

Then she would ask me if I would miss her when she was gone,  and I gave her the expected, "of course I will" response.   Neither of us could have imagined a beautiful fall afternoon in the future when just the memory of her loving tenderness would bring me to tears.  Now, as I make my way through life without my perfect partner, I sometimes wonder about how many other special moments I took for granted.  During the 50 years we were together there were thousands of them I'm sure.  This poem is about  special moments that I did notice:


Each day I start anew
reconstructing a lifetime
that was 50 years in the making.

The things that didn’t matter,
went unnoticed,
now get my attention,
I notice them,
they matter:

searching for a tube of lipstick
on the bottom of a cluttered purse,

the way you dried yourself
after a bath.

You filled each day
with things that were for me alone,
in ways that seemed to matter little then,
but so much now.

John A. Bayerl, October 4, 2011

Thank you, Dear, for giving me a lifetime of things that mattered.

Monday, October 3, 2011


Gwen was on my mind a lot this weekend and today.  It's those feelings of wanting to see her, talk with her, feel her, hold her close; just have her here with me.  As the leaves begin to turn I remember that fall was her favorite time of year.  She said that the cooler weather made her peppy, and when Gwen was peppy there was no stopping her; it was the same attitude she took toward fighting cancer.

We especially enjoyed fall days at our cottage on St. Joseph Island.  The island is covered with maple trees. Gwen and I especially enjoyed the fall when their leaves turned brilliant yellow, orange and red. When the leaves fell on our property they ceased being things of beauty and were Gwen's sworn enemy. It does my heart good this morning as I see her helping me  rake leaves onto a large tarpaulin and haul them off into the woods.  That memory of her full of energy and rosy-cheeked is one I cherish; raking leaves with her was never a chore.  Then I would build a fire in the stove and we'd enjoy a cup of hot chocolate or maybe a visit with Carmen and Linda next door.

Those memories help me get through times like this:


Tonight the house seems quieter and emptier.
I walk from room to room, talk to your pictures,
once again,
listen for your sweet voice,
long for the smell of your perfume,
kiss your image,
hold it close to my heart.

It’s something I can do.

John A. Bayerl, October 2, 2011

In a few days I'll be out raking leaves again, Dear.  I'll try, but it won't be as much fun as when you were there helping me. 

Saturday, October 1, 2011

On being lonely.

It is important for me to write about the way I felt as I walked from the stadium to my car today.  As I walked, I reflected that it had been a good day; albeit a long one.  I felt good about the way I had interacted with the people I with whom I work.  There is a feeling that we are a team.  What we are asked to do is really boring; basically, we serve as a barrier  to prevent fans from going to places in the stadiums that their tickets do not allow.  The up side is that, for those who enjoy people watching it is an unparalleled opportunity.  Although we don't see all of the 100,000 plus people who attend each game, we do see a fair sample of them.

Today it pleased me when I was able to offer members of my team an opportunity to exchange places for a while with someone in a more interesting position, and most of them told me that they preferred to stay where they were.

At the end of the game I was able to get together with my nephew, Kevin, and his wife and family. They have a way of making me feel special, and there were hugs all around.  It also made my heart happy when I received a text message from Jeanne telling me that she was in Aspen with Izzy at a gymnastics meet.  What a world we live in!

Back to the walk back to the car, which took me about 20 minutes.  During that time, I suddenly became aware that I was walking all by myself.  All around me people were walking in groups with family and friends, and, most painfully, there were men and women walking together, holding hands.  At times like that my thought process goes like this:  "OK, don't forget that you once had that; embrace and celebrate that."  Yet, as I walk along the sidewalk in front of Pioneer High School, surrounded by people,  why do I feel like the loneliest person on earth?

As I walked the last block toward my car I suddenly felt your hand in mine, Dear, and that dreadful, lonely feeling disappeared.  Doing familiar thing is important, so I made a pot of chili when I got home, wishing only that you were here to enjoy it with me.