Lover's Key, Florida

Lover's Key, Florida

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Monday, February 27, 2012


We don’t need a heck of a pile,
you once told me,
we can live on love and happiness

That was
when love and happiness
were piled high and plentiful.

Then one day love is sorrow
joy is grief
the need is for  more
than a memory
of  all that love
and happiness—
of what was.

What remains?

Once again I hear your soft voice
calm and patient
whispering in my ear
not lecturing
 gently reminding me
about not needing a heck of a pile—
only love and happiness.


John A. Bayerl, January 13, 2012

That's how it is today.  Warm memories of what was, keeping alive the love that lead to so much happiness.  As I wrote to a friend today, I'm not real sure yet about what may be next for me,  I only know that there are things remaining for me to do.  It would absolutely be so much easier and more fun with Gwen at my side.  (I wonder how many times I've used the phrase "with Gwen at my side" since she died.  She really was my pal; my sidekick for a lot of ventures and adventures, even a few misadventures.)  

As I'm writing this I'm reminded of what a strong, self-directed person Gwen was.  Whatever she set out to accomplish in life she succeeded in doing.  Mustn't forget what a great example she set not only in dealing with chronic illness, but also in doing whatever she put her mind to.

A big thing I'm grateful for, Dear, is that one of the things you knew you wanted was me.  You were so cute about it too.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Friday, February 24, 2012

Something Is Changing

For the first time since Gwen died I sense a change in the way I feel about living without her.  Heaven knows, I hesitate to even write about it, because, as I've written before, grief is sneaky; it is like a lion lying  in a cage in the basement: every now and then it finds a way to escape its cage and comes roaring up the stairs.  What I hope 15 months of grief has taught me is that I can crack the whip and make that lion behave a little better.

It has been a long, dark week for me.  In my last entry on Monday I talked about life being fundamentally an experience of going from light into darkness--from the moment we leave the total darkness of our mother's womb into the glaring light of day, and life, until the final moment when we leave life and go back into utter  darkness and then a beautiful light of love and peace that none of us is able to imagine. (If we were able to imagine it, that would make it imaginary, and I refuse to believe that.)  Eye has not seen, Ear has not heard.

So, what does this all mean in the cold light of reality?   It means that I seem to be in some  kind of transition.  The darkness I experienced this week has ended, and I am seeing the world in a new light.  Maybe only those who have experienced the deep grief that accompanies the loss of a great love are able to fully appreciate what it means to be in this state, and, as before,  I am reluctant to even write about it.  But write about it I will, because of my faith in what the past months of writing has done for me.  By plumbing the depths of my heart and soul and then bringing what I discover there into the light of day I have discovered that I can now look at  pictures of Gwen that I have all over the house and no longer sink into a pit where I wallow in anger, self-pity, and yes, abiding memories of that deep, deep love we shared.  (I am remiss if I leave the impression that I've gotten to this point all on my own, it is only because of the love and support of our children, my close family and relatives, my friend Dave K,  my many friends, and the prayers of countless others that I have managed to stay afloat all these months and gotten to this point.)

Today I look at  pictures of Gwen that formerly caused a now familiar bittersweet feeling of anguish mixed with delight and say to myself "that was then; this is now."   Am I ready to have a party and celebrate my release from grief?  Of course not, I know too well that I'm still on an emotional roller coaster, and that lion in the basement is not gone, only resting.  But, there is no denying that the release I feel from the darkness I've been in all week is real.  This is a fitting time to once again read the poem by David Whyte that Fr. Dillon sent me:


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 ~

Since I first read this poem to you, Dear, I have been beneath the still waters daily, sometimes hourly, every minute, every second.  I know I will return there again, but I have a good feeling that it will no longer be as scary, or as dark, and when I reach the surface my pockets will be filled with small gold coins.

Monday, February 20, 2012


This morning as I lie here
still warm beneath the down,
rare February sunlight
opens my eyes to another day.

As I do when each day begins, 
I feel the great emptiness
next to me, whisper,
sometimes say aloud,
her name and ask her
to join me
if only for a while.

I think my morning thoughts,
ideas that are fresh and new—
I’ve thought about them before,
but not quite the way I do now—
each morning it’s different,
but always the same.

I hear the icicles melting
on Bob’s house next door,
smell no coffee brewing,
stare at the huge blades
on the ceiling fan
for when down comforters aren’t needed
only a sheet perhaps
no flannel pajamas then
only something light and sexy
maybe just a tee shirt,
one that says LIFE IS GOOD.

The February sun becomes warm,
for a blessed moment,
wishes are granted,
the great emptiness is filled.

John A. Bayerl, February 20, 2012

To me, this poem  is like the narcissus bulbs I planted in Gwen's Garden last fall. Right now, in February, they are where it is dark and cold, but something in them assures them that soon it will be time to ever so slowly begin the process that will bring them to the light.  From darkness to light; isn't that what life is all about when reduced to its simplest form?  We leave the total darkness of the womb to live in a world of light for a while before once again entering the dark into the light.  At least, that's how it it is for those of us who believe that life doesn't end; it changes. 

For whatever the reason, perhaps it's the prospect of a quiet Monday with nothing planned except to attend a meeting this evening, I am in a reflective mood this morning.  I could carry on with the dark into light theme for quite some time, but for now those thoughts are like an unformed poem inside me, and they will need to be coddled and nurtured for a while before being allowed to emerge.  They're thoughts an old guy thinks when confronted with the utter reality of the death of one who gave life much of its meaning. 

As I continue with my project of digitizing all of our slides I find it to be more and more of a comforting experience.  It is a review of more than two decades in our life as two people in love and of a family that was fortunate to have been able to do many exciting things together--from simple things like sharing the "Baby Jesus" cake that Gwen made each Christmas to extended trips through the American West and Canada 

There is the jolting pain as well a warm feeling in my heart each time I come across a picture of Gwen looking vital and beautiful; but I remind myself that the gift we shared was meant to be shared at that time alone. I don't know how many times I've bitten my tongue on the verge of asking Gwen to help me remember a certain detail in a picture or the event we were attending.   

Spring is coming, Dear, and today is one of those days when intense melancholy is replaced by a glimmer of hope.  I am grateful for the grace of the special love we share and will fight through this grief with the courage to see what may yet be in store.  In the end, it will matter.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

No one stole the Big House

It looked like ti was going to be another quiet Saturday until I received a phone call from someone named Tyler in the UM Athletic Department.  He asked me to work at the Big House today for an "event day."  The UM Basketball team is playing Ohio tonight at 9:00 and it's an ESPN game day feature.  He needed someone to serve as a host for the meal for ESPN workers at the event; it was in one of the lounges in the Big House, next to Crisler Arena. .  I decided to do it; it was only from 4:300 to 7:00, and, as usual, I told myself that I have to get out and do things even though Gwen won't be at home waiting for me.

 It was an interesting evening; essentially it was opening the door for whomever showed up, and watching to be sure that no one stole the stadium.  Unlike football games, where I am on my feet all day long, this was really nice because I was in a lobby with comfortable furniture and a TV.  To make it even better, as I was leaving the two women who were putting away the food prepared a plate for me to take home with me.  I was grateful, but also sad because I wasn't able to share the meal with Gwen.  It's still so hard coming in the front door without her.  In spite of that, all in all it was a good day.

It's strange how this goes.  Some days, like today, I feel as though perhaps things may eventually be, different.  I never say things will be better, but I know they will be different.  If thing were to get better, Gwen would be home with me right now having a cup of tea, and I wouldn't be writing these words. At least, the Big House was still there when I left.  Now it's time to watch he game.

You have been on my mind all day long, Dear, we were so good together.

Friday, February 17, 2012


The room in our house
where she took her last breath
is my hallowed place.

I meet her there often.

You really did it this time!
I say to her.
It’s Christmas, the kids will be home.
How could you?

I lie there, in that room
where we shared it all,
and I ask her to be with me.

I learn the truth
about the price of great love--
grief of equal proportion.

I discover that I love her
in ways I never knew I did,
or could.

John A. Bayerl 
December 9, 2010

This morning, as I reached in the cabinet to get a cup for my coffee, I realized that it was time to run the dishwasher.  There was a cup left, but I couldn't use it--it was Gwen's favorite cup.  I chide myself about this; after all, I use "her" bowls for cereal that I eat with a spoon that she used.  For goodness sake, most of the air you breathe is air she breathed.  The coffee cup has joined what I have come to call theholy ordinary, list; those ordinary items in my life that are in some way made holy through their association with that which makes all things holy-love. That cup reminds me of so many late afternoons spent enjoying a cup of tea with Gwen, something we both loved doing.  The conch shell on display in one of our bathrooms I found on a beach on St. Kitts Island when Gwen and I spent a week there.  It will be looked at with much more reverence today. I'm sure any of those who might read this will be generating their own holy ordinary lists as they read. We who love find holiness in those we love and all things close to them.

In addition to coffee cups, songs and other artifacts that Gwen and I shared, during the years she was ill we shared a bedroom in a lower level of our home.  Most of that time we shared a big old queen-sized bed, but, as her disease progressed, she slept in a hospital bed on loan from the hospice, and I slept near her in a twin bed.  Immediately after her death my children wisely moved me to the bedroom Gwen and I had used prior to her illness.  The hospital bed was returned to the hospice, and another bed replaced my twin bed in the room where she died. This is another instance where to talk about it too much will profane it, that’s what the poem is for.
The poem was written about a month after Gwen died.  As I read it now I find that the anger I had then has somewhat dissipated.  
Added on February 17, 2011:
This morning, Dear, I was at the hospital where you had all your treatments, tests, CT Scans and the like.  After completing the test I went there for, I had breakfast at Nick’s, a little restaurant in the hospital where you and I spent many happy hours having a meal or just a cup of coffee.  Those were very ordinary moments, but during those times we were falling in love all over again—Nick’s is a holy place.

Thursday, February 16, 2012


Friends, family, those who love me
tell me
that she wants me to be happy.

I  know that—
she and I talked about it,
but those were only words.

Goodness knows
I try hard all day long:
keep it light
live in the present

Then one day it’s Valentine’s Day
a time to remember
and I see her smile
taste again those lips
smell the perfume from France
feel her gentle touch
hear words she speaks
only for me.

It’s like walking around
in a sad love song
a song with a happy beginning
a story well told
about years of bliss
a joyful chorus
echoing through years.

Then it’s another Valentine’s Day
without her.

The song has a sad ending
and  a beautiful melody
that I  can’t get it out of my mind.

John A. Bayerl, February 15, 2012

St. Valentine's Day was two days ago, but my heart was heavy on that day.  This poem was in me,  but it couldn't come out into the light of day. 

 "Wow," I'm thinking, "that sounds kind of arrogant;  just make up a day to do what everyone else does on the day designated for it--talk about love of your life!"   "So what," I say, "always remember why you write this blog, it's to honor and commemorate that extraordinary woman who made your life complete."  When things come from our hearts they are never late--always right on time.  (Hmmmm;. . .  is there a poem in there somewhere?)

The slide project I've begun working on has turned out to be quite interesting and satisfying, albeit with moments of sadness and pain.  Back in the era when it was popular to get a good 35 mm SLR camera we did just that, and took literally thousands of pictures that were turned into slides.  The slides have all been safely stored in a plastic bin in carousels that were used in the projector; the projector still works fine, and the spare bulb that Gwen insisted we buy is still in the package it came in.  It's taken  along time for me to get up the courage to watch all those slides (There are close to 2,200 of them.).  I did watch them, and now I'm using a scanner to convert them to pictures that are stored in my computer.  When I'm finished I hope to make CDs with all the pictures on them for each of our children.  Technologically challenged as I am, I'm sure friends and family members will chime in with suggestions on the best way to do that.

As I look at each slide it evokes memories of all the times and places and trips Gwen and I were able to share with each other and our family-- living in Oregon, Wisconsin, Marquette, Flint, Ann Arbor,  Long Island.  Then trips we took to Yellowstone, Banff, Quebec, Boston, New York, Vermont, Seattle, Florida, Casimir's Cottage in the U. P., camping at Chicaugoan Lake--painful as it is to see the pictures of Gwen, young and beautiful as she was then, it is also a reminder to be thankful for the many opportunities we had to enjoy life and our children and especially each other.  Also, I am once again taken by how bravely and gracefully she managed Type I Diabetes; for more than 40 years,

I am grateful, Dear, for the song we sang together and for the beautiful melody that remains--even today, a dreary, foggy Second St. Valentine's Day.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012


I've talked about this in bits and pieces.  This is the whole story:

It's  about events that transpired on the nights of January 27 and 28, 2012.

I’ve enjoyed many live performances at the Ark, and this year decided it was time to provide them some support in the form of a paid membership.  One of the perks of that membership was being able to purchase tickets for the Ann Arbor Folk  Festival, which took place on the two dates mentioned above.  I bought the tickets well in advance, and, thinking that either my son or my brother might enjoy attending with me, I bought two tickets for each night.  The event was at Hill Auditorium.

On the first night neither my son nor my brother was able to attend with me, so I sold the extra ticket and attended alone.  I arrived early and promptly headed into the auditorium.  As I sat alone in my seat, waiting for the entertainment to begin, I couldn’t help but remember several performances Gwen and I had seen there—at Christmas with the grandkid, The Nutcracker;  a gathering of my brothers and sisters when we saw Garrison Keillor and his Prairie Home Companion show.  One of the more memorable performers we saw there was John Denver, before he became famous and a folk icon.  When we saw him it was just him and his guitar, alone on the big stage.  I longed for Gwen to be sitting in the seat next to me.  After 50 years of attending events with the one who completed me, although I know it is important to get out and do things on my own, it is not easy, and a now familiar melancholy feeling came over me.  “This show better be good,” I thought to myself.

A short while later a couple, perhaps ten years younger than I, arrived and took the two seats to my right.  I stood up and shook hands with the man and we introduced ourselves.  By then his wife had taken off her wraps and was seated next to me.  I shook her hand and said: “Hi my name is John.”  “Hello,” she said, “my name is Gwen.”  Who says wishes don’t come true?  “That name makes you pretty special to me,” I said, and then explained that my wife’s name was Gwen and that she had died in November of 2011.  They were a delightful couple, and I enjoyed talking with them until the show began.  In the course of that conversation I learned that the Gwen sitting next to me was a bookkeeper.  The year before we married my Gwen worked as a bookkeeper.   “What a coincidence,” we said.

It didn’t end there. . .

On the second night of the Festival I asked my friend Mary to attend with me.  She and I met through a bereavement group in which we participated, and we sometimes attend the same church.  Mary was divorced, and then she met a man named Jim with whom she fell in love.  She and Jim had been in a loving relationship for several years.  Jim died about a month after Gwen did, so we had that in common; learning to live without someone whom we dearly loved.  She is a good friend.

We were looking forward to being entertained by Glenn Campbell, Nanci Griffith and Emmy Lou Harris.  In particular we hoped that Nanci would sing a song that was made famous at the recent Occupy rallies around the country.  Mary, with her sardonic sense of humor, said that it should be the theme song of those of us who never quite know what to say to others when they ask if we are alright.  The song, which Nanci did lustily belt out during her performance, is called Hell No, I’m Not Alright!”

Our seats that night were in the mezzanine, my seat the previous night had been on the main floor.  We found our seats, and I related to Mary the story about having Gwen sitting next to me the night before.  Two people arrived and took the seats next to us.  It was Gwen and her husband!  This was getting stranger by the minute.  We had purchased our tickets at totally different times.  What are the odds that we would be seated next to each other two nights in a row in completely different sections of the auditorium?

No longer amazed at what was occurring, I introduced Mary to Gwen, then turned and introduced Mary to Gwen’s husband.  “Hello,” he said, “my name is Jim.”

Coincidence?  I think not.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012


He sits there alone
in a red plastic chair
waiting to see the doctor—
 tries not to envy
the man and woman
across from him
arms folded
across their chests
the way old married people do.

Once we were like that.
At least they’re not holding hands
he mumbles to himself
then immediately regrets it
even wishes they would kiss
time together is so precious.

The man and woman
get up
to see the doctor—
he listens to the rhythm
of a heartbeat
looks at the two of them
and says
you should hold hands more
it’s good for the heart.

John A. Bayerl, February 14, 2012

Over the years I have kept and cherished valentine cards that Gwen gave me.  Each one has specific memories attached to it, but the one that means the most is a simple home-made one--a piece of red construction paper folded in half with a white, cutout heart glued to the front.

Above the heart she wrote:

To My Wonderful

In the white heart she wrote, in red ink:

I Love You

Inside the card she wrote:

For loving me as I am,,
For being you,
For giving me you, 
          I love you,

Below all that she wrote:

P. S.  You are my Valentine!

No gifts were ever necessary, Dear, not when we had the gift of each other.  Oh, and that P. S. was kind of cute too.  

Monday, February 13, 2012


Life was so much simpler
we loved
we lived
we laughed
repeat the formula
day after blessed day.

Life is complicated now
we has become me
love is gone, not lost
life is—livable
laughter is rare
there doesn’t seem to be
a formula to repeat

only day after day.

John A. Bayerl, February 9, 2012

This morning, as I waited for my annual checkup with my cardiologist, I thought of asking him about how losing the love of my life affected my heart.  No need to ask, really, I know what it did to my heart in more ways than one.  

It was fun reminiscing with my friend Mary at lunch today.  Others who knew Gwen remember things about her that I overlooked or didn't see.  Mary often pushed Gwen's wheelchair to the car after a meeting.  During that time Mary got the once over about her love life. All done in that low, conspiratorial  voice of course.  Or, the time we all went to Chili's and Gwen so enjoyed that margarita.  Precious times. It's time like that when it's still hard to believe that she is gone. Denial isn't necessary always a bad thing.

Tomorrow is St. Valentine's Day.  A poem came to me in the doctor's waiting room this morning.  It will be ready to be released tomorrow.  That's how it is with me and poems; they are never finished, I get to the point where I'm comfortable abandoning them.

Walking past the displays of valentine cards in the stores, seeing and hearing ads for flowers and candy and gifts all remind me of how it was with you, Dear, a special day to say out loud what we lived every day.  Then later in the evening. . .

Saturday, February 11, 2012


Each night
when I finish reading
I come to the same realization
my bed is way too big
it’s so empty
without her.

I invite her to join me
she always does
I’m safe for another night
until morning comes
when I awaken
with only memories
in all the lovely pictures.

Pull up the sheet and blanket
fluff the pillow.

We were told to expect
 the empty nest
no one mentioned
the big empty bed.

John A. Bayerl, February 11, 2012

This is a poem I've revised since I first wrote it a year ago.  I thought of this poem when I read something similar that a friend named Rita wrote; that, plus waking up to the cold this morning brought such good memories of times when I didn't wake up alone.  Especially at our cottage in Canada.

Winter came in hard last night.  This was the first morning this year that I've seen condensation on the edges of the windows; a sure sign that the temperature has dropped way lower than it's been in quite a while.  The cold wind blew in from the north and brought some snow with it--not a lot, but enough so that I'll have to crank up the Toro today.  

I've heard from all four of our kids already this weekend.  So good to know that they are always on the lookout for me.  So blessed to see how well they are each doing.

 Tomorrow it will be 15 months since Gwen died.  All those memories come flooding in--of that night, but also  a year's worth of Sunday nights the year we first fell in love.  Leaving her and missing her the moment the door closed behind her.   But then, I knew that Friday was coming. . .

The sun is out.  Time to clear the driveway, then to the gym.  Why in heaven's name did I decide to bake a  mince-meat pie last night?

It's going to be another of those days, Dear, when I miss you and see you in everything I do.  Thank you for the four children you and I raised so that now they always have my back.

Friday, February 10, 2012


Beside you,
lying down at dark,
my waking fits your sleep.

Your turning
flares the slow-banked fire
between our mingled feet,

and there,
curved close and warm
against the nape of love,

held there,
who holds your dreaming
shape, I match my breathing

to your breath;
and sightless, keep my hand
on your heart's breast, keep

on your sleep to prove
there is no dark, nor death.
Nightsong" by Philip Booth, from Lifelines. © Viking Press, 1999. Reprinted with permission

When this poem arrived from Garrison Kiellor today I read it and was moved at how well it describes what I want each night as I drift off to sleep.  This certainly can't be a unique experience; I'm sure that anyone who mourns the death of a loved one with whom they have shared a bed knows what this is like. I know too that this is far more than a memory for me.

This morning I drove over to the school where son John teaches in Dearborn, and spent a delightful morning with him.  He asked me to teach his anatomy class a lesson on stress and how it affects the body--something I did many times while a counselor at Huron High in Ann  Arbor. (And, who wouldn't be pleased at the opportunity to teach with one of his children?)  It was a special time for me, I always enjoyed working with young people that age, and this was a particularly diverse group,    (Dearborn is the city where the highest number of Arab-Americans live anywhere in America.)  They were attentive, and at the conclusion of the class, after I had led them in a guided imagery exercise, several of them told me that I should come back every Friday:)   As I had them list things that cause them stress, it was I who was educated.  They are growing up in a world that is far different from what I knew at that age.  Yet, in some respects some of their concerns; dating, fitting in, worrying about college, relationships with others, etc. are the same things I worried about as a teenager.  Concern about the environment, texting, Face book status updates, and the like were all new to me.

The school where John teaches is a career-training center, and one of their programs is hospitality.  I was able to join him and his colleagues at a beautifully prepared and presented meal afterwards.  The teachers there are always warm and inviting, and they treat me as one of their own.  One of the students sent me home with a Valentine cupcake.  It's too pretty to eat.

As I drove home I felt comforted and satisfied at being able to do what I had just done.  Then. . .old habits die hard; "I can't wait to get home and tell Gwen about this!"  Oh, yes. . . 

 A line from an old song just popped into my head, Dear:  The song is ended; but the melody lingers on.  What a song it was and what a melody we still sing.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012


The quiet emptiness
of the house
is also in my heart
where she once filled
every corner
now it echoes
the sound of sobs
of longing
not despair
proof again
of a love
that had to leave
quiet emptiness.

John A. Bayerl  February 8, 2012

As much as I try to keep busy, these melancholy feelings have been with me every day.  It's not unbearable and I know it's necessary to welcome and stay in touch with them if I am going to find a successful resolution of the grief I feel over the death of my best friend and pal.  The increased intensity of these feelings may have something to with knowing that Sunday will mark another month since she died.  And so, yes, the quiet emptiness I feel when I return to the house after being out in the world is also felt in my heart, and I try then to write about how this makes me feel.  I know that others read what I write, I try not to write for them, but instead to keep in mind why I began doing this in the first place--to honor the memory of a wonderful woman who made my life complete in  so many ways.  It is healthy and healing for me to speak from my heart about the wonderful gift from God that Gwen was.  

In spite of the feelings of sadness that seem to accompany me everywhere, this has been a good day.  My friend, Mary, was supposed to meet me for breakfast, but she woke up thinking it was Wednesday, so I had breakfast alone.   (I sometimes wonder about the fact that there are so many women named Mary in my group of close friends.  First is my sister Mary, then my sister-in-law Mary, friend Mary from the support group, friend Mary from the bereavement group, Mary from STP, Mary in Minnesota whom I'll probably never meet, and Marie, who died before Christmas.  I'll bet I've forgotten some too.)  

It was good getting back with my memoir-writing group this afternoon after a long break.  There are other things planned for this evening, and then tomorrow is a really busy day.  

I leaned back in my chair and took a break from writing this, Dear, and you crawled up on my lap, put your arms around my neck, and gave me a big smooch, right on the lips.  Memories like that help to fill the quiet emptiness.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012


It’s like washing my hands in the winter
this grief of mine.
I turn on the faucet marked hot
and the water is always cold.

It’s always the same.
Wait patiently for the warmth
to take away the cold pain;
the water stays cold,
sometimes even gets colder.

I fill my hands with foam,
rub them briskly,
sing happy birthday to myself,
rinse in the clear, cold water,
long for the warmth.

In what seems like forever winter
I turn on the faucet,
the one with the red H,
and it’s always cold.

John A. Bayerl, April 28, 2011

Today as I was washing my hands at the gym I remembered this poem that I posted almost a year ago.  It describes what today has been like for me.  One of those days when just a little warmth would be so nice.  So, when I got home I made a big kettle of chicken noodle soup.  That always helps.  

This morning I renewed my relationship with Dave, my golf instructor.  He has a way of saying things about golf that are instantly applicable to life.  This morning he had this to offer: "It's easier to improve parts of your game where you are really awful than it is to make things you're already pretty good at better."   I'll have to think about what part of my life sucks the most and then figure out a way to make it less sucky.  Is sucky a word?  It is now;  What sucks most about my life is not having Gwen with me.  Back to that conundrum about filling a giant hole in my life with something of substance when all these ghostly memories insist on filling it.  

Each night I take the time to count my blessings, and I always realize how fortunate I am compared to many, many people who grieve the loss of a spouse  Four children and three grandchildren who have Gwen's imprint on them, and are always there for me. Sisters and brothers, mine and Gwen's and their families who cared deeply about how I am doing.   Friends here in Ann Arbor and also literally around the country and the world who offer me support and love.  A faith community that provides genuine and constant meaning to my life.   Then, it's onto areas where I need to improve. . .

The poem about cold water, Dear, reminds me of all the times I would help you bathe, and I tried always to be sure that the water temperature was just right.  Even on our last night together.  

Monday, February 6, 2012


Women’s Petite
Department at Sears
I knew I’d wind up here
kidded myself
about buying tee shirts.

I sit in the only chair
the one near the dressing room
wait for her come out
twirl, ask how it fits
and I say perfect
especially the way
it brings out the blue
in your eyes.

Friday night
we found an excuse
to go out
and I got to see her
model the dress again
this time
I’m in the dressing room
with her
this isn’t Sears
hang up the dress
let me see
those blue eyes.

Old habits die hard
I go to the hardware department
seeking the comfort of
among the hammers and pliers—
no matter how hard I try
it’s just not the same
all I see are those blue eyes.

John A. Bayerl, February 6, 2012

It's been like that all weekend; a soft and gentle sense of missing Gwen's presence in my life.  The weather continues to be exceptionally sunny, warm (at least for February in Michigan), so I'm able to get out and do things, go for walks, first thing you know I'll take my bike down from the ceiling in the garage.

Yesterday and today I spent time at the mall.  Lots of good end of winter sales, so yesterday I bought things. I used to wonder why Gwen would do this, buy things, bring them home, then bring them back to the store.  Today, that's exactly what I did; brought back all the things I bought yesterday.  

While I was a the Sears Store this morning I found myself wandering through the petite women's department where Gwen loved to walk around, look at things, sometimes try them on, ask my opinion.  It is such a a gift to be able to find the love Gwen and I shared deep in my heart by merely wandering through a department store and feeling the sad longings that acccompany sweet memories.  

It always comes back, Dear, to those special, secret things we shared.  Not only does love come as a gift, it also comes with gifts that may be opened way off in the future--I opened one of those gifts today. 

Saturday, February 4, 2012


I joked about it;
called it retail therapy—
walk around the mall
look more than buy;
it helped,
for a while,
kept things from going bump
in the night.

My  kindly doctor called it
boot therapy—
put on your boots
and walk;
the pounds began
to disappear,
but the goblins stayed.

My friend called it
boot poem therapy,
put on your boots,
walk, write a poem—
the words will come
slowly at first
but they will come,
and I wrote
about whatever
accompanied me
on my walk.

None of my poems
were about goblins.

John A. Bayerl, February 4, 2012

Today I chatted with a dear friend who told me about what her doctor called  the boot diet--when she gets hungry she puts on her boots and walks.I suggested that she may wish to write a poem while she's out walking about--kind of kills two birds with one stone; takes care of your physical and mental health.  I'll be anxious to see the poem she writes.  

Last night I saw the movie The Artist.  Screwed up all my courage and went alone.  It's still so hard to do that sort of thing without Gwen.  I thought the movie was great, and it took my mind off of being by myself; ever so slowly I'll get used to my status as a single person.  Have to learn how to behave all over again.  It was so much easier when I was in my early 20s.   

Brother Dick stopped by for a visit this morning.  We always have a lot to talk about, and I know he is always there for me.  He has a good heart.  

No matter how alone, or how lonely I may be, Dear, you are always with me.  

Friday, February 3, 2012


Because you are so dear to me
I give you this little silver key.
Because you are the one I love best
you'll find a lock for this key on your cedar chest.
 John A. Bayerl, December 25, 1962

As I was looking for a sweater the other day I came across this little bit of rhyming poetry in an envelope in the cedar chest that has been with Gwen and me since Christmas, the year before we married. Since that time I've written poetry that has more depth, but never have I approached the heartfelt meaning that was contained in those four simple lines. The engagement ring would come two months later, but the cedar chest sealed the deal, no doubt about it.

The cedar chest, by Lane, is a lovely piece of furniture, still in excellent condition and smelling of cedar all these years later.    It has kept many a moth out of our wool clothing--moths were Gwen's mortal enemies.  Even in the summer when moths would gather around the porch light she would be busy shooing them out and telling me to keep the door closed so they wouldn't get in the house and chew holes in our sweaters and such..

Among the treasured things we stored in the cedar chest was a wool, plaid Pendleton shirt that Gwen bought for me when we lived in Oregon.  It was always a favorite item of clothing, and when I wore holes in the elbows I remember how Gwen lovingly fixed them with faux suede patches.  Today I wore the shirt, and my heart clutched as I had a vivid memory of Gwen sitting in a rocking chair sewing those patches on the elbows.  Grief is famous for that; just when I think things are kind of under control something like that happens, and I'm right back where I started.  Of course, I want to be able to say that I am moving on, but it isn't  that simple. I suppose that there are those who might consider being reduced to a blubbering fool at the memory of patches being sewn on a shirt a step backward.  To me, it isn't.  These are wonderful memories, and they are helping to fill the giant hole left in my life by the death of my soulmate just as surely as are the many diversions I try to fill my life with each day--writing this being just one of them.

A week from this Sunday it will be 15 months since Gwen died.  In a way, that's a long time, but, when compared to the nearly fifty years that Gwen and I shared a love that brought  us together and then sustained us, it is merely a heartbeat .  I'm reminded of a line in that hymn I love, "life is but a breath, we flower and we fade."  My friend, Ginette, who also lost the love of her life, says it well: the process of grieving is a time for re-membering the one we loved so dearly.  As the days go by, I ever so slowly incorporate Gwen back into a life that she really never left.

Surprising you wasn't easy, Dear, but you had no idea that you were getting that cedar chest.  How could I ever forget the hug and kiss you gave me, even though your whole family was watching.  Now, all these years later, it has become even more precious.  It was sometimes a struggle getting it into a packed car as we moved from location to location, but somehow it added continuity to our life then, even as it does now.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Now Picture This

Yesterday and today I began working on a project that I've been procrastinating about.  It seemed like such drudgery; I've been surprised and amazed at how much fun it's been.  

Gwen's and my life can be measured in photographic eras.  First there are black and white pictures taken with box cameras; these are of our parent and grandparents.  Then came our own black and white pictures taken with Kodak cameras, then there were color photos.  Next came polaroids.  

When we lived in Oregon we spent what was then quite a bit of money on a Canon TX 35 mm SLR camera, which I still have safely ensconced in its original leather case, I don't know if I could still find film for it.  It took some great pictures from Oregon to New York.  We took mainly slides with this camera, yet another era in our life as portrayed in photographs.  Then came all the Instamatic cameras, followed by simple digital devices.  

Gwen and I spent two weeks in Florida a few years ago, and , to celebrate that occasion, we bought a Canon Power Shot SD850 IS that still works very well   A year or so ago, when I set out on my journey of self discover,  I bought a Canon SX 30 digital camera, which, if I still lived on the farm, could probably be programmed to milk cows and feed the chickens.  Just when I thought that was as far as this Luddite would be able to progress in the world of technology I became eligible for an upgrade on my i-Phone.  So now I have a telephone with a camera that far outstrips that early Canon TX, and, along with it comes a woman named Siri who could call the cows and chickens by name.  (I hope Gwen's not reading this part; she was never too keen on all these new gadgets.) 

Over the years we took many slides with that old Canon SLR.   They were put into carousels that are put into a projector for showing.  (The projector still works, and someone, probably Gwen, had the foresight to buy an extra bulb for it that we still have.)  Yesterday I opened the storage bin that contains the slides that portray several years of our life.  The bin was filled with carousels, each one filled with 100 slides!  There are 21 of them.  Do the math.  The project I've begun is one of scanning those slides into my computer, where they are magically turned into pictures.  The scanner can handle four slides at a time.  Do the math.  If I do one carousel each day, as I've been doing, it will only take three weeks to complete the task; it seems manageable when looked at that way.

As I've progressed through this task I've become aware of why I  procrastinated on it for so long.  These slides were taken during a period in our life when we were doing wonderfully exciting things.  I've been afraid to see them because of the fun  time in our life they chronicle.  One of the slides I found is of Gwen standing with Chicaugoan Lake in the background near her home in Gaastra.  I have it as wallpaper on my computer. She is so absolutely beautiful in it.  Maybe I'll post it on a Silent Sunday.  The good part of this project is that I'm able to organize all these slides into folders that make sense and that our children will be able to enjoy.  Of course, the slides will always be there with the projector.  

Lots of good times and memories in those slides, Dear; tears are good--and necessary.