Underhill is a small town nestled against our small town of Jericho. Some years ago the United Church of Underhill started their Harvest Market on the last weekend of September. There were crafts made by church members, a cookie factory, and a sale in the "Clutter Barn." It grew. And grew. It has become quite the event and an autumn destination.
I went early. They kept on coming.
The line for French fries developed way before lunchtime.
We left when it became too crowded.
It was refreshing to stand and just look at this view from the edge of town.
Last week I went to a nearby Farmers' Market and bought red and golden beets, fennel, and a sweet onion. I roasted the beets with olive oil and rosemary from my own herb patch and put them in a salad with wheat berries, walnuts, feta, the fennel, and the onion. Another cooking adventure that fed me for a week.
I made a batch of homemade chicken noodle soup with green beans and fresh carrots, too. Variety is important, too, not just convenience.
Of course, wouldn't you know it, the day my neighbor popped over to find out what I was having for supper I was having a bowl of cereal.
Vermont seems to be pulling out all the stops this year and giving us the kind of autumn it is known for--bright colors popping out on the trees, cool nights, and brilliant blue sky.
It doesn't seem fair that Mike isn't here to enjoy it...not to mention be here to help me button up the house before winter. Let me tell you, this grieving thing is just plain hard. And it hurts.
I've heard about the Kubler-Ross stages of grieving. I wish there were stages, that this could be a step-by-step process. I wish that I could check off "denial" and "anger"--check, check, check, check--move on to "acceptance" already. It doesn't seem to work like that. It is more like a roiling pot of all those emotions burning in the center of me and I never do know which one is going to bubble to the surface or when.
And then there are times when I feel okay. I am doing my normal things--writing or making cards or sewing, reading or watching something on the television, going out to the store, volunteering at the library, taking a brisk walk--and I feel, for whole bits of time, normal.
The sense of loss comes crashing in again. Mike is gone, my friend, my love, our plans for the future. It feels exactly like apart of me is gone as well.
Still my mother was Ukrainian and I have that fatalistic, Slavic acceptance of death being a part of life as a part of my own genetic make up. So absolutely, while a part of my spirit has gone with Mike, a part of his spirit remains here with me. I do know he believes I am strong and that I am capable of moving forward. I know that I will be okay in a different way than I may have imagined not too long ago. I kind of wish I didn't have to be, but I do.
Mike and I considered ourselves soul mates, but we definitely were not culinary mates. Mike liked what he liked and disliked what he disliked and he never changed his mind about things like that. He did not eat mayonnaise. He did not eat tomato sauce. He did not eat cooked vegetables except for corn, peas and green beans. He did not eat onions cooked or otherwise. He did not eat casseroles ever since they were a combination of things he didn't eat anyway.
I did not like mushrooms as a kid and eggplant just made me gag, but my tastes changed, Foods I found disgusting as a child are now among my favorites--mushrooms, eggplant, avocados, asparagus, eggs, spinach, brussel sprouts, herbs and spices.
I will admit that I never developed a taste for liver (nor do I want to).
I made this Moussakka a while ago and ate it every day for a week. I froze half of it but ended up thawing it out right away.
It consists of sliced eggplant layered with a fresh tomato sauce loaded with Greek oregano, basil, and parsley from my garden and with some ground turkey thrown in. Then it is topped with a bechamel sauce to which I added a big dollop of basil pesto. I topped it with a bit of parmesan cheese, bread crumbs and fresh parsley and baked it.
You know, I really do feel him near me so much of the time...but not so much at meals.
September is a month of numerous birthdays in my family. Mike's birthday was in September. My mother's birthday was in September. A niece, a nephew, a step grand daughter, and a grand nephew (great nephew??) all have birthdays in September. I have not been so great about getting cards out in honor of the various celebrations, but I did manage to make a couple.
Every one says to give myself time to grieve. I don't see that I even have a choice in the matter. It is a process and there are no short cuts. It is one day at a time and baby steps along the way. Heartache and missing Mike are my new reality. Well, a part of my new reality. In the meantime, I am left to go on with life and figure out my way in the world. Some things--often unexpectedly--are hard. Other times--often unexpectedly--I find a well of strength I maybe had not appreciated before.
My friend Ginnie calls often to ask in a most supportive way, "What did you do today? What do you plan to do tomorrow?" At first it was the many details of death that took up the "just one thing I can do today." Basic things like brushing my teeth and washing my face felt like accomplishments. I cleaned the house as a way to lovingly touch all of Mike's things. I even dusted his tool chest and his work bench in the garage. I am grieving, but I am not going crazy.
And life calls to the living and I can answer a bit more each day. Thoughts of "Mike would have enjoyed this," or "I would be doing this on my own anyway," are always there but I am not giving up. I am carrying on. I am grieving with all my heart, but I am not going crazy. I may talk to Mike...out loud...often during the day and especially at night, but I am not going crazy.
So this week, I went to writing group. I had nothing to share, but afterwards I made some time to sit and write. It helps me. I will have something to share next time. And I pay attention to blogs. I have found it difficult to sustain attention to reading, but this week I started And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini, and writing that good helps me. Last night I joined my poetry friends for an evening of poetry reading, music, and delectable delights and it was soothing to my spirit. I am not going crazy because women will not let me.
I got back to the online class I was taking--pants fitting. I struggled so I let it go, put the pattern aside again for a while longer. Mike always said to walk away from something that was frustrating me and go back to it later. Too often that was a difficult thing for me. Frustration can make me stubborn, but I heard his voice once again and I let it go. I am not going crazy. In fact, I may have grown a bit there for listening.
I baked apple pies. That is an obligatory ritual of September in Vermont. Mike loved my pies, but my brother will benefit from this baking session. Cooking can be such an offering of love and seasonal cooking is an act of respect for the earth. I stepped out of myself for time I spent baking. Nothing crazy about that.
Don't think that I am protesting too much. I am not going crazy. I am grieving. I am living.
I consider myself fortunate to have the support of friends and family through a difficult time. My lawn has been mowed by neighbors. Flowers from talented gardeners were brought to cheer me at home and to decorate the community center for the celebration of life and memorial service. Cards arrived everyday for three weeks. I have been fed. My friend Ginnie has done way more than her share by feeding out of town family, including two teenage boys and a 21 year old. That's a lot of lasagna and macaroni and cheese! (I kept her zucchini casserole for myself though.) She helped me put together the photo display and picked up the cake and delivered it, too. Maggie brought quiche and wine. My friend Donna sent a gift card for pizza while Mike was still in the hospital and made a pasta salad for Saturday. Carl and Ellie supplied chicken and biscuits and homemade chocolate chip cookies. Mary Jane introduced me to Ben and Jerry's Liz Lemon frozen yogurt.
My brother Ed and sister-in-law Kitty and my sister Eva were the power house behind setting everything up for Saturday. Mike's family, my family, my firends, my community...I can not thank them enough. I will keep trying.
My cousin John rode his motorcycle from Rochester, NY, to attend the service. My cousins Bill and Carla sent a wonderful fruit basket. Mike's cousin Chris drove up from Connecticut and his buddy Moose brought his girls from Rhode Island and headed back home in the same day. That is touching effort to pay respects. So many of Mike's friends and colleagues have been in touch. People have been very kind.
The celebration of life went very much as I had envisioned it. Mike's youngest grandson took some pictures early in the day and I will post those another time. I guess it was a major step in the direction that grief and mourning can take us, a public admission that Mike's death is real--a new depth of pain and just when I think the well of tears has surely run dry, a whole new flood rains down. I realize that this is the road I have to travel for now. It is good to have the helping hands reach out along the way because this is really very hard.
I have to believe in angels watching over us and that those angels are the people who loved us during their time on earth.
Yesterday I read blogs in the morning. On GigiHawaii , I saw a link to the site for Leigh Ann Phillips, a new age sound healer. I had been thinking when I woke up about what music to use at Mike's celebration of li on Saturday. There was a review of Phillip's latest album, Mik'ael, on that site.
Now, know that Mike would not willingly listen to more than three seconds of new age music, but when we did our advanced directives a few years ago, we talked about the fact that services after a death were for remembering the loved one and for providing comfort to the family.
"Mik'ael"? Is it the comedian Jeff Foxworthy that says, "There's your sign!"?
Later in the morning, I had a call from a friend of Mike's from Minnesota. I recognized the caller ID and assumed it was a condolence call, but as it happened he had not heard and I had to tell him the sad news. We both ended up crying so hard we had to just hang up. It set off a pretty drippy day for me. It was a beautiful, crisp September day, though, and I decided to go out for a walk. As I walked up the road, a car went by, not pulling out into the oncoming lane as they so often do (do I really take up that much space?) and I was drawn to look at the license plate...FINDJOY.
There is nothing like a visit from the grand children to remind one that life goes on. I spent Friday night at my daughter's and then brought the kids back home with me. I did not get to see so much of them this past summer and it was a birthday gift to my daughter (who just turned 40!) to have a couple of days to herself.
She probably spent them in her son's room playing Lego StarWars. Dane tried to teach me how to play this video game--a hopeless task if ever there was one. "Concentrate, Grandma! You have to concentrate!" I do have a hard time with sustained concentration lately, but in this case I had no clue what it was that needed concentration. He finally took the controls away from me (thank-you!).
It's amazing how long he can amuse himself at my house being out side on a scooter or helping me in the yard, especially if it involves a hose. Inside, they both sit and draw or craft for hours. Just before bed, Dane did say, "No offense, Grandma, but I miss my Lego StarWars. It's okay though. I had fun today."