Lover's Key, Florida

Lover's Key, Florida

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Thursday, March 29, 2012


Perhaps one of the most difficult aspects of  Gwen's illness was to watch someone so vital and appreciative of every moment of life lose ground each day on the things that we simply take for granted.  Things like being able to dress, walk from one room to another, feed oneself, or even brush her teeth.  Had she been able to do so, she would have stomped her feet and said "I do not like this one bit!"  In fact, she often said words similar to that.  I have said before that caring for her was never difficult, she made it easy, and, in the process, taught our children and me a lot about unconditional love.

In her book Kitchen Table Wisdom, Rachel Ramen makes this statement:  "The healing of our present woundedness may lie in recognizing and reclaiming the capacity we all have to heal each other, the enormous power in the simplest human relationship; the strength of a touch, the blessing of forgiveness, the grace of someone else taking you just as you are, and finding in you an unsuspected goodness." 

Many of you know that Gwen was diagnosed with Type I Diabetes at age 28.  As she would later do with cancer, she acknowledged that she had this disease and then went on with living her life just as she wanted; which included returning to college at the age of 36 and earning a bachelors degree in nursing.  In a funny sort of way, what happened was that my children and I loved her, not in spite of her disease, but because of her disease. Such was the strength of her character. 

 In my professional training and practice I have often been taken by the awesome power of unconditional love and acceptance.  Especially during her illness, Gwen showed us that power by her refusal to ever complain about either the unfairness of her illness or the manner in which we cared for her. In return, we all grew in our appreciation of and ability to practice unconditional love. The words below are  my attempt to capture a little piece of what that felt like:

I lean over
Kiss her on the neck
Do my best Mr. Rogers
I love you just the way you are.

I love you more
She whispers back
Kisses me on the cheek
Softly, gently.

Imagine doing that
For fifty years
And then no more
Welcome to my neighborhood.

John A. Bayerl, February 1,  2011

 The healing of our present woundedness may lie in recognizing and reclaiming the capacity we all have to heal each other. . .

Wednesday, March 28, 2012


The last time I was at Macy’s
She was with me
in a wheel chair
now I’m ready to go there again

Or am I?

Maybe, if I avoid
Petite Women’s Clothing
especially the chair by the dressing room
Children’s Clothing
it’s OK to spoil them rotten
Youth Dew Powder
need I say more?

Should have known
they’re having a clearance sale
on sweet memories.

I'll leave the way I came in
down the long hallway
where the restrooms are
I'll be safe
walking through there
but safe.

John A. Bayerl, March 28, 2012

Yesterday, while I was at the Apple Store at the mall, getting help with unfreezing my i-Pod, I saw the entrance to Macy's Department Store, and all the sweet memories came flooding in.  I notice that I now call them sweet memories.

Lately I've been in a strangely suspended state of being.  Leaving something, heading for something new.  I told a friend about this, and added that it would be easier if I were younger.  Change is hard at any age.  Remember; we don't fear change, we fear loss.  Then there's that saying about the more things change the more they stay the same.  You've always loved paradoxes; tolerate the ambiguity.

This I know for sure,  Dear; the gift of love we shared never changes.

Thursday, March 22, 2012


At least for me
one of the things that is missed
is the kissing—
think about it
at only two kisses per day
after 50 years
we’re talking about
close to 37,00 of them
and there were certainly days
when two kisses were just a beginning.

Will I ever forget
that first kiss
at her front door
the one that made me dance
all the way back to the car?

Then came the electric kisses
the hungry ones
that opened places in my heart
I didn’t know existed,
the passionate ones
that sucked the air out of my lungs
and put life into our love.

It was just one kiss
but it was sanctified
when it was OK
to kiss the bride.

Then that night
of the wedding
the sticky kisses
like the suction cup
that holds the Christmas Candle
to my window
lips touch slowly
not hesitantly
until they peel part
with regret
almost, it seems,
a cell at a time. 

She would say they made her weak
and dizzy
those kisses standing there
in our bedroom
dressed to kill—
or not dressed at all.

Maybe the best were the spontaneous ones
that just happened naturally
in the course of a day
for no reason at all
just a pleasant acknowledgment
of a gift not lightly accepted.

Although it happened every night
it could hardly be called ordinary
that peck on the cheek
or the lips 
with the words I love you
securely attached.

Those last kisses
when we knew there would soon
be no more
were the most precious
of all—
finally, the kiss
on her cold lips
when she left the house
for the last time.

John A. Bayerl, March 22, 2012

Maybe it's the unseasonably warm weather we've been having that is hastening spring fever.  At times like this, how can someone who lost the person who made life make sense not be reminded of the simple sweetness of kisses exchanged in a life together?  Oh, those warm spring nights.  

It was a week ago that the tornado hit Dexter, ten miles from here.  Tonight it is once again clouding up and thunderstorms are in the forecast.  This is unheard of in this neck of the woods, but tomorrow I'm going to have to mow the lawn.  The good news about tomorrow is that Brooke will spend the day with me.  Work in the yard in the morning, then a movie in the afternoon.  

I've begun moving in the direction of meeting new friends.  I'll write more about that later when I kind of get things figured out a little better.  For now, it's enough for me to. like a turtle, carefully and cautiously poke my head out of my shell to see what's out there in the world.

The poem about kisses is all about you, Dear; how I miss all of it.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012


This is something I posted more than a year ago.  It seems appropriate to publish it again, on the first day of spring.  We've been having exceptionally warm weather in Ann Arbor; today the temperature was in the 80s.  The daffodils, hyacinths, lilies and crocuses have all poked their head out of the ground.  This was Gwen's favorite time of year, and she enjoyed seeing the emergence of living things when she had been told by doctors that she wouldn't see that annual miracle of the season.  I am particularly happy that the four hyacinth bulbs I planted as part of her garden last fall are now up and ready to bloom.  She loved hyacinths, particularly their sweet smell.  So, this repost is kind of about all those things, life and love and living:

I try always to keep clear my primary purpose in making these postings.  It is to honor the memory of my dear wife Gwen.  I find, however, that at times, rather than a memorial commentary per se,  they take the form of a memoir.  This posting will probably fall into that category.  It's unavoidable, to talk about Gwen is to talk about me, we were pretty much inseparable all of our life. In a talk on transformational love Msgr. Zenz made a statement that "when we fall in love we find ourself by losing ourself in the beloved."   It helps me to understand my grief to think about how Gwen and I, early on, really did lose ourselves in one another.  I'm sure we didn't talk about it in that manner.  It was more like the note I talked about yesterday where she says, "I can't think or concentrate much tonight because you give me too much to think about myself."  This is an extremely self-confident, cocky young woman, 19 years old, who is making this statement.  I remember it well.  Love, real love, can be scary.  It's such a leap of faith.  What we both learned, of course, is that when you fall, you fall forever, at least, that's how it was for us.

The first five years of our marriage were an exciting adventure to say the least.  Year one we spent the summer in Marquette where I attended summer school.  (Also, this was our "honeymoon".)  In the fall we moved to Ann Arbor where I attended the UM and Gwen worked as a secretary in the Dietetics Department at the Veteran's Hospital in Ann Arbor.  It wasn't all work, she also became pregnant with our first child, son John.  Year two we spent in Reedsville, Wisconsin, where I was the "Guidance Man" in the schools and Gwen gave birth to our daughter Jeanne.  Year three we were in Portland, Oregon, where I completed a year of graduate studies and Gwen participated with me in many of the group activities that were popular at the time; "sensitivity groups" come to mind.  That year we discovered "the pill." Years four and five we lived in Flint, Michigan, where I served as guidance director for the Westwood Heights Schools and Gwen worked as a substitute teacher.  Early in year five Gwen gave birth to our third child,  Michael, and, later in the year,  I secured a position as a counselor with the Ann Arbor Public schools.  In the fall of that year we moved to Ann Arbor.

In order to earn money for a down payment on a home in Ann Arbor I spent the summer of 1968 working as a security guard at the Chevrolet Stamping Plant in Flint.  The job paid very well, but I filled in for vacationing permanent employees, which meant I worked weekends, holidays and the late shifts, 3:00 p. m. to 11:00 p. m. and sometimes 11:00 p. m. to 7:00 a. m.  Gwen was left with the task of keeping the household running.  She had now reached full maturity and become a most beautiful woman in spite of having given birth to three children; I could tell by the way men looked at her when we were out together. I remember feeling some occasional pangs of jealousy when I had to leave her alone at night although she never gave me the slightest reason to doubt her love.  Maybe it was more like I've discussed before, I was jealous of myself. I wanted only to continue to be worthy of that wonderful woman.

One task I had as a night watchman was to  spend four of the eight hours of my shift assigned to a little guard house in a field next to a place where trains enter the property through a gate in the cyclone fence.  My only job was to remain alert and, if, as occasionally occurred, a train came through the gate, I would write down the number of the train and the time it arrived.  Remaining alert was the challenge, I was not allowed to read,  listen to a radio, talk on the telephone or do anything that might distract me from my primary duty which was to wait for that next train to come down the tracks.  No one had said anything about writing, so I did a lot of that when I pulled duty guarding the railroad tracks.  Looking back now, I can see that it was a blessing in disguise because it forced me to slow down the crazy pace of life I had been pursuing and reflect on the important things in my life, and my beautiful wife Gwen was number one on that list.  It was then that I wrote this lengthy reflection on the love of my life.  I found it in its original, written in pencil on a yellowed sheet of paper from that guardhouse by the railroad tracks:

How strange it seems, but it’s true
to be married five years and awake one
day to discover
that your love for your wife is real,
and to feel in your heart what it means
when you say you love her,
to know and to feel that this woman
is your commitment, not just for now,
but for always,
and to know that this love that you feel
will grown stronger and more beautiful through
all of your days.

Does this mean that you did not love her before?
That for five years and more you’ve been
living a lie?
I think not, for it seems only right
that, if love is to grow, its earlier
imperfections must die,
and be recognized as such and nothing more,
lest they smother the tender new love and
prevent it from bearing new fruit,
which too must be harvested and planted anew,
so that new love may again appear while the
love that bore it remains mute.

So you ask her (your wife) to understand
that this new you who’s come into
her dull routine life,
seeks only to say words to her
that you’ve said before and will say again
to her, your wife,
that with each time she hears them again,
the man who speaks them is a little more
devoted and true,
and he’s learned a little bit more
about what it means when a husband
tells his wife “I love you.”

John A. Bayerl,  circa 1968

After I shared this with Gwen, I put it away to be typed later.  Now, almost 50 years later, I finally got around to typing it.  It means as much today as it did then, the evolving and growing love that I shared in the poem didn't die with her.  She's reading and loving those word again, just as I am.

Friday, March 16, 2012


The opera ain’t over
 ‘til the fat lady sings
has some exceptions.

For the cynical
 those who don’t know
about hope
for them the lady sings
or so it seems.

The blessed ones
the hopeful ones
hear the lady warming up
it’s like a choir of angels.
John A. Bayerl, January 1, 2012

I wrote the first draft of this on New Year's Day.  Today seems like a good day to set it free.

It's been exciting around here.  There were some devastating storms in the early evening yesterday.  I love to watch storms, not through a window, but somewhere where I can feel, hear, smell, touch, even stick my tongue out and taste, all the elements of a storm.  I opened the garage door, found a comfortable chair, and watched as giant thunderheads piled up in the sky.  The neighborhood warning siren began wailing, so I knew this wasn't going to be be your ordinary thunderstorm.  Soon the rain began, then the wind, a lightning strike so close by that I heard the thunder almost as soon as I saw the flash of light; then hail began drumming on the roof of the garage.  It was over almost as quickly as it began.

I went in the house, turned on the TV, thankful that we hadn't lost electricity.  It was time for the evening news, but it was all about a tornado that had touched down in the village of Dexter, about ten miles from where I had been sitting in the garage.  Thirteen homes were smashed to smithereens, many more were damaged, but fortunately there were no injuries to anyone.  I thought about taking a ride to inspect the damage, but decided that it was probably pretty chaotic there, and the last thing in the world that was needed was one more car cluttering up the neighborhood. 

My singing lesson was changed from Wednesday night to tonight--something to look forward to.  Kyle, my teacher, sang for a Masters Recital for a student who is a collaborative pianist.  Since her major is in playing the piano as an accompanist, she needed someone to accompany, and Kyle was among four other students who sang with her.   I attended the recital--it was beautiful, you had to be there.  The songs Kyle sang were beautiful love poems; how could I not cry?   I think I'll go to more of these recitals; there is such talent in The School of Music at UM.  And, best of all, the recitals are free and we do the students a favor by providing an audience.

At the recital an elderly couple sat next to me Dear, and I had a nice conversation with them; all the while thinking you should have been there with me.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012


was our first time
together as one
sweet gentle love

each and every time
through the years
we completed each other

new, exciting
never bored
no seven year itch

growing old
together as one
better and better

‘til death
do us part
my graceful perfect partner
so hot

With thanks to Kate.
John A. Bayerl, March 13, 2012

It's been a good day--I saw some old friends, made a new one, heard from several others.  Yesterday was kind of tough as are each of those commemoration days. It is now 16 months since Gwen died.  "Is it getting better?" friends ask me.  "Define better," I think, but what I say is, "it never gets better, it gets different."  The friends I met with this morning, all of whom have lost a spouse, one of them twice, all agree on one things:  no one will know what it is like to lose someone who was loved dearly until one knows what it is like--and there's only one way for that to happen.  

I imagine, Dear, that our four children read the poem and think: "Dad's calling mom hot?"  You were alway hot to me, and I didn't tell you often enough--but you knew.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Silent Sunday

Lori McKenna / Barry Dean
St. Peter says “You picked a real good day”
Your lungs fill back up with air - your worries float away
Jesus smiles - he’s a handsome man
He’s taller than you thought - eyes so warm - reaching out his hand
In the Holy Kingdom angels sing a hymn
For all your good behavior they handed you your crown & wings
You don’t feel the sorrow, there’s no pain no fear
don’t forget about me - don’t forget about me
I’m still down here
Everyone knew - you were on your way
Earlier than expected, said the papers that day
You saw your family - some for the very first time
There were smiling faces, strawberry cake and a welcome home sign
In the Holy Kingdom angels sing a hymn
For all your good behavior they handed you your crown & wings
You don’t feel the sorrow, there’s no pain or fear
don’t forget about me - don’t forget about me
I’m still down here
Here in the shadow-land - Here where there’s doubt
Here where we must learn to live - With what we live with out
Clouds of silver and streets of gold
Where no shadow is cast - and nobodies growing old
You find an old friends and take a walk around
But believe them when they say - “tell you one thing - just don’t look down”
In the holy kingdom - angels sing a hymn
stay there above the clouds now - don’t ever shed one tear
Don’t forget about me - don’t forget about me
I’m still down here

Son Mike sent this to me; thanks, Mike.

Friday, March 9, 2012


It's been fun to realize that I no longer feel compelled to write something every day.  But. . .there is something to be said for the discipline of putting words on paper every day.

As I write this a huge full moon is rising outside the living room window. Once again, seeing that full moon reminds me of so many wonderful times Gwen and I shared beneath a full moon--from the passionate enjoyment of being alone on a New Year's Eve the year before we married to watching the moon rise over the lake on St. Joe Island to just quietly being together only two or three years ago.  For the fourth month in a row I've been blessed with a clear sky on the night when the moon is full, it's like harvest moon times four.

This sense that something is changing continues to dominate my life.  Today I drove to Columbus, Ohio, and met in person Barb, whom I've been in touch with by e-mail and telephone as part of an online "class" in which she and I were both enrolled.  She is a dean in the School of Education at The University of Utah, and was in Columbus to conduct a workshop at a conference.  I enjoyed the drive down to Columbus, having not been there before, and enjoyed even more the opportunity to have lunch with my friend; she is even nicer in person than she has been in our emails and phone calls..  Were she not half a continent away I am sure we would be even greater friends than we are now, and see each other often.

So yes, things are changing for me, and I  no longer simply have the feeling that something is about to happen; I have begun taking steps, ever so cautiously, to see what possibilities may be out there for me for the rest of my life.  I know better than to make any definitive statement; tomorrow I could again be back in the pit digging hard to make the bottom even deeper.  And then there's that big full moon through the branches of the oak tree in the back yard. . .

How I wish your were with me tonight, Dear, watching that big old moon. . .


Monday, March 5, 2012


Bob my neighbor is in his 80s,
on garbage day I get his cans
from the street,
walk them up the driveway
between his house and mine.

I pass the window in the room
where I sat with my love
as she departed this earth—
and I see her soul fly
out of that window
white and wraith-like
as it did that night in November
when temporal love became eternal.

Many who read these words
will give me that look,
you know the one,
they know better
say it’s just my imagination,
and they will be right—
except it’s so much more to me
and that makes it true.

John A. Bayerl, March 5, 2012

Last week for one brief moment, as I lay in the hospital waiting for a doctor to push a fiber optic wire through my arteries into my heart, I suddenly realized that there is a certain amount of risk involved when someone pokes around in your heart with a wire.  And I thought, "gee, maybe I'll see Gwen again, sooner than I thought."  When it was all over, the doctor informed me that I can expect to live a long healthy life, unless of course I get run over by a truck.  The point is, there is no fear of death when someone who made your life complete is   dead.  That changes everything; as life becomes less of a commodity to be treasured and more of an opportunity to do whatever it is that one is able to do to make it matter as it mattered that Gwen lived and enriched my life beyond anything I might have expected.  

It's a sunny Monday in March, Dear, the kind of day when we would have enjoyed a walk around the neighborhood or even Gallup Park.  As Bruce Springsteen said: "If I should fall behind; wait for me."  And I know you are waiting. 

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Promise

  (by Marian Olson)

Pain issues from a fractured soul,
the broken root of the tree.
Tomorrow new leaves and buds
will bubble out of the
appearance of the dead branches,
not because we stop grieving,
not because we know how,
not because we are worthy,
but because that is the way of life,
the grace of pulse for every living being.

A friend sent this poem to me today, and it is a perfect fit for my life at present. How lovely are these words: "not because we stop grieving,
not because we know how,
not because we are worthy,
but because that is the way of life,"
These words speak to me about the inevitability of life--and death.  And so it goes on and on.

Today is also one of those days when I paused to consider just what may still lie ahead for me.  When my cardiologist had me take a stress test a couple of weeks ago the results showed some sort of an abnormality, and for a variety of reasons,  he wanted to check things out with a heart catherization.  Bright and early this morning son John delivered me to the Imaging Center at the hospital, and before noon the results were in.  Everything is fine, and I am once again free to ponder what the future holds for me.

Today, Dear, I thought of asking the doctor who looked around my heart with his fiber optic wire whether he saw the big hole you left there.  He wouldn't have seen it had I asked; only your and I are able to see that particular "grace of pulse for every living being."